Yesterday the new Programme for Government was launched by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and we’ve been looking at it closely.
With the Government already committed to halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020, less than three years away, we had high hopes that the environment and wildlife would be near the top of the refreshed priority list. So what are our initial impressions? Well, although there are a few disappointing omissions, and the programme is strikingly light on new direct measures to tackle the biodiversity crisis, there are a lot of wider environmental measures to be positive about. Here are some of our initial thoughts:
On land management:
Continued commitment to provide new resources to tackle wildlife crime, establish an independent group to consider management of grouse moors and to research the impact of large shooting estates on Scotland’s economy and biodiversity are all very welcome, as is the commitment to establish an independent group to advise on effective deer management.
We also welcome Government's focus on developing a strategic approach to environmental policy in Scotland to protect and enhance our environment. We look forward to seeing specific plans and proposals to how this will be achieved in sectors such as agriculture and forestry. For example, how faster progress will be made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture or halting declines in biodiversity. Brexit will have significant implications for farming and on the natural environment given farming's interaction with soil, air, water and biodiversity. The commitment to “develop policy and principles for future rural support based on the best available advice, research and expertise” is therefore welcome. However, we urge Government to ensure this includes a strong environmental component if its desire to take a leading role in addressing environmental challenges is to be achieved. With this in mind, the membership of the National Council of Rural Advisers needs to be significantly broadened. Food is vital to us all. The way we produce, process, consume and, too often ultimately, waste food has major impacts on our environment. A Good Food Nation Bill is the Government's opportunity to set us on a clear path to a healthy, sustainable and socially just food system as called for by the Scottish Food Coalition. While there is reference to plans to consult on a Bill, the lack of any firm commitment or timetable to bring a Bill forward is hugely disappointing and a missed opportunity.
Continued commitment to forestry is welcome. Forests and woodlands are an important part of our rural landscape and home to a range of priority species. Existing woodlands need effective management and woodland expansion must be located to prevent the loss of important open ground habitat and to optimise the range of benefits that can come from tree planting e.g. flood alleviation. The Forestry and Land Management Bill will be an opportunity to promote sustainable forestry and we look forward to contributing to Stage 1 of the Bill.
On the marine environment:
Commitment to create a research programme on blue carbon is very welcome, and should help ensure the potential for healthy marine and coastal habitats such as seagrass to lock carbon away Combined with plans to improve the protection of Priority Marine Features this could be a win-win for climate and biodiversity goals.
Plans to evaluate options to create a deep sea national marine reserve are positive, and we look forward to hearing more about them, but Government must prioritise introducing management of fishing activity in existing MPAs and formally adopting those protected areas already proposed, and supported by scientific advice, for seabirds, whales, dolphins, and basking sharks.
A commitment to develop a dolphin and porpoise conservation strategy is great news, as these species face widespread and multiple threats. We will follow this closely as it is a model that could perhaps also be applied to help improve prospects for Scotland’s seabirds.
The commitment of £500,000 to begin to address litter sinks around the coast and develop policy to address marine plastics is very welcome, particularly when combined with the introduction of a deposit return scheme for drinks containers. This should greatly help efforts to stem the tide of plastic litter entering our seas. According to the latest OSPAR assessment of the North-East Atlantic over 95% of North Sea fulmars have plastic in their stomachs and over 90% of beach litter is plastic.
Disappointingly, long overdue legislative reform on inshore fisheries appears to have been kicked into the long grass. The Scottish inshore fisheries strategy published in October 2015 made clear that “21st century fisheries management needs 21st century tools” in part to meet nature conservation obligations, and promised a fresh legislative framework. The 2016-17 Programme for Government included plans to develop an Inshore Fisheries Bill to modernise management but this has not progressed and there is not a single mention here. This is an opportunity missed to keep the momentum going on a widely supported strategy.
Many of the measures mentioned above will also help provide very welcome cuts to emissions, and in so doing reduce the threat that of climate change to wildlife. Highlights include the following measures, many of which we have been calling for as part of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition’s Act for Our Future campaign.
There is more info on our support for the campaign here in this blog.
Disappointingly though, maximising economic recovery from oil and gas, improving exploration and bringing in fresh investment in the sector are all prioritised. This, and the absence of measures required to tackle Scotland’s increasingly significant land use related climate change issues, looks increasingly at odds with the Government’s wider generally progressive decarbonisation agenda.
And finally, proposals to strengthen the role and alignment of the National Planning Framework with wider government strategies and programmes are positive and should help ensure wider long term policy development is more joined up and more sustainable, particularly if closely combined with the commitment to further imbed the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the National Performance Framework. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government to help this happen and to ensure that the Aichi targets on biodiversity are also met. As always though, the extent to which these positive environmental commitments are effectively implemented will be the measure of how successful this Government is at establishing its reputation as a ‘green’ government.
Last month Jim Densham, RSPB Scotland’s Senior Land Use Policy Officer, blogged about climate change and ask you all to sign this petition from our partners at Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, calling for strong climate targets from the Scottish Government. One of the things the petition is calling for is a Nitrogen Budget for Scotland and here Jim details more about this.
Stopping invisible pollution – why we need a Nitrogen Budget for Scotland
More than ten years ago I co-wrote an RSPB report titled ‘Force-feeding the Countryside’. The report showed that overuse of chemicals containing nitrogen, especially fertilisers, pollute some of our most sensitive habitats and kill wildlife. We highlighted Loch of Strathbeg as one of RSPB Scotland’s reserves where this type of pollution was causing major problems for the plant communities, and for grazing wildfowl, coots and dabbling ducks.
It wasn’t an easy environmental problem to communicate then and it still isn’t. That’s because the pollution and impacts are widespread, largely invisible, and need to be tackled by many parts of society. Also, and perhaps critically, the problem largely comes from a use of fertilisers which farmers rely on to grow the food we all eat. As with growing food, nitrogen is a good thing, but you can have too much of a good thing.
The problem of nitrogen pollution has never gone away but it is being talked about again as we look for new ways to tackle climate change. Nitrogen is bad for the climate - huge amounts of climate-damaging emissions are released to the atmosphere when fertilisers are made, and when fertilisers are spread on the land in an inefficient way they release nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Farming is the source of nearly a quarter of all of Scotland’s climate-damaging emissions and is the leading source of nitrous oxide pollution. Arguably farmers and land managers have most to do but we all need to change our behaviour. We can buy organic food where possible, reduce and recycle food waste, compost what we can, and use compost instead of chemical fertiliser in our gardens. As a society we use and waste way too much nitrogen – we must cut back and do much better at recycling biodegradable wastes.
To make this happen we are calling on Government to introduce a Nitrogen Budget in Scotland within the new Climate Change Bill. It would help Government to understand how much nitrogen is used and where it is lost, throughout Scotland. This knowledge could be used to design fair policies which cut emissions and pollution, and promote recycling. Government Ministers would then have confidence to set national targets for reducing our overall use of nitrogen and make us more self sufficient in growing our own food.
A Nitrogen Budget would help Scotland address a pollution problem which has been affecting our climate, and precious habitats, like at Loch of Strathbeg, for so many years. Join us and our partners in the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition in calling for a strong and ambitious Climate Change Bill which includes a Nitrogen Budget for Scotland – add your voice today at http://bit.ly/SCCSAct
For more detail on why a Nitrogen Budget is important and how it works, read this blog by our partner Nourish Scotland.
There's some different wildlife to look out for now autumn's here and more ways to help the nature in your garden as the days get shorter and cooler - RSPB Scotland's Jess Barrett takes you through what to expect over the next few months.
The changing of the seasons from summer into autumn is a beautiful time of year. As the night creeps back into the evenings and the temperatures drop our trees turn from lush vibrant greens to crisp rusty reds, yellows and oranges. It’s one of my favourite things to look out for at this time of year and who doesn’t love crunching through the fallen leaves and kicking them about?!
While we have to bid farewell to some of our much loved summer visitors as they leave for warmer climates, we’re joined by whole hosts of other species who either come to spend these colder months with us, or pass on through on their journeys to other wintering grounds.
Fieldfares will begin to arrive over the next month. These beautiful blue-grey thrushes will spend most of their time in open countryside, bordered by hedgerows and woodland, looking for grubs and worms. If the temperatures drop some of you may be lucky enough to spot one in your garden where they’ll come to look for berries if the ground is frozen or covered in snow. They are incredibly social and flock numbers can be as high as several hundred strong!
Redwings are smaller members of the thrush family, and will have begun arriving over the last month. The chestnut-red colour under their wing gives these birds their name and they have a distinctive pale stripe above their eyes. They also tend to avoid gardens unless the weather is very cold but look out for them on open fields, and keep an ear pricked for a thin, almost mournful sounding whistle on misty evenings over the next few months.
Last year you may remember saw huge numbers of waxwings in Scotland. These crested birds bring an exciting colour flash to the colder days; we’ll have to wait and see if we’re to be treated to another irruption of them this year.
Clear, cool autumn days are a great time to go on walks and see what nature you can spot, and how it changes the closer we get to the clocks going back and the chillier weather coming our way. There are also lots of ways you can help wildlife closer to home over the coming months.
September can be a quiet month for bird feeders with no more young mouths to feed and plentiful food being provided by nature. However, around now you’ll see garden birds beginning to return gradually. Keep a bit of food in your feeders so birds passing through know that there’s a regular source available there. Then as the temperatures get colder the birds will begin to visit more routinely. Putting food and water out often will be of great benefit to them as their natural sources of food become scarcer and water may freeze, and it also means you get the pleasure of seeing them back in your garden feeding away!
Insects and mammals love the warm carpet that fallen leaves provide so why not give the rake a break and leave the leaves as they fall for a bit? When you do come to sweep them away piling them into a corner will make a perfect home for hibernating hedgehogs.
This time of year also often treats us to stunning, blazing sunsets with blazing golden colours streaked across the sky. The red leaves of trees seem to glow in this light – it really is a stunning time to enjoy all that nature has to offer!