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World Environment Day 2019

– in the Scottish Parliament on 13th June 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Would members of the public who are not remaining for the next item of business leave quietly, please?

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-17329, in the name of Gillian Martin, on world environment day 2019. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

The debate is quite heavily subscribed, so I will have to be strict on timings in order to give us time to get the chamber ready for this afternoon’s 2 o’clock start.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes World Environment Day 2019, which will be marked on 5 June; notes the recent publication of the report,

Scotland’s Nature on Red Alert

, by Scottish Environment LINK, which highlights the potential impact of climate change on Scotland’s biodiversity; understands that almost one-in-ten Scottish species are at risk of extinction, and applauds the work of MSPs who work as species champions to protect Scotland’s wildlife and to help raise awareness of threatened species in their regions and constituencies.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

I am delighted to open the debate to celebrate world environment day, to highlight the importance of biodiversity to our environment and to give all our species champions a chance to highlight the importance of their species to the natural balance that must be protected at all costs. From the tiny insect that pollinates our plant life to the giant cetacean that inhabits our seas—and everything in between—everything has its place. When the population of a species decreases or is at threat of extinction, that fine balance is disturbed, and that impacts on us all.

The motion highlights Scottish Environment LINK and WWF Scotland’s report, “Scotland’s Nature on Red Alert”, which outlines the key areas of concern. The threat to the natural balance is a fairly successful species—us. There is no doubt that human beings have caused the global warming that is the biggest threat to our plants, birds, insects and animals, so it is our moral duty to deliver the solution to that problem.

The warming climate has the potential to impact biodiversity globally and locally. If members are not convinced by the moral obligation argument, they can look at the matter from an anthropocentric point of view. Biodiversity has a key role to play in many of the ecosystem processes that we, as human beings, depend on—for example, nutrient cycling and pollination. Negative impacts on our biodiversity will potentially affect our food and water supplies and our air quality—basically, our life support systems.

The “State of Nature 2016” report indicates that almost one in 10 Scottish species is at risk of extinction. Some of our iconic wildlife species are among those that could be affected: the capercaillie, the puffin, the kittiwake and other seabirds, and the freshwater pearl mussel and Atlantic salmon. Marine species that are at their southern limit around Scotland, including the Arctic char and the white-beaked dolphin, simply might not swim in our Scottish waters any more. The same goes for smaller fish and organisms that are important food sources for other species. Increasing acidification of the oceans might affect not just our wildlife, but our shellfish industries. Our world-renowned salmon rivers might lose more fish as water temperatures rise and summer water levels decline.

Plant communities will change as populations of upland species are reduced. If our peatlands dry out, they will no longer be able to store as much carbon for us, and our rivers might no longer protect us from flooding if rainfall levels rise. As any farmer could tell us, last year’s dry summer had a massive impact on crop production and feedstock for animals.

Changed human behaviour is the key to halting declines in species populations, and as the newly appointed grey seal champion, I know that only too well. Globally, the grey seal is one of the rarest seal species, and about 50 per cent of the world population lives in British and Irish waters. At the start of the 20th century, it was estimated that there were about only 250 grey seals left in United Kingdom waters, and they were near extinction. Certainly in my home village of Newburgh, I rarely saw a seal on the River Ythan estuary when I was growing up in the 1980s because they were routinely shot by people who had fishing interests. Now, as a result of a range of protection measures, the grey seals are thriving—not least in the Ythan estuary, where we have the largest colony in the UK.

Earlier this week, I promised the pupils of Balmedie primary school that I would tell the story of why I feel particularly qualified to be the grey seal champion. Eight years ago, while walking with my daughter at the Ythan estuary, we encountered a small grey seal who had beached herself, exhausted from hauling behind her the metres of fishing net and rope that was tangled around her neck. Every time we approached to try to disentangle the seal, she scarpered back into the river. Worried about distressing her further, we let her be and continued on our walk.

We spotted the seal on the way back: by that time she was so exhausted that she no longer had the energy to move away from us. I managed to get hold of the rope that had embedded itself in the skin of her neck and I pulled it off, but not before she sunk her sharp teeth into my wrist and secured me an appointment at the accident and emergency department later that day. I still have a fairly large scar.

Members will be aware of the origins of Spiderman. [

Laughter

.] Peter Parker was bitten by a spider and developed spider-like powers. Who knows what that seal bite gave me? I have yet to discover an increase in my swimming skills, so being the grey seal champion will have to suffice until the powers inevitably reveal themselves. My Marvel “Seal Girl” back story is a funny story to tell the kids in schools, but, in all seriousness, I want to use my position as grey seal champion to campaign against the fishing gear and other debris that entangle our marine species, including seals and cetaceans.

I also want to help local campaigners who want to educate the public on the best way to view the seals without disturbing them. In my area, that would be from the other side of the River Ythan, on Newburgh beach, where there is a better view of the colony and some of the seals come right up to people rather than bolting away from them in panic.

I am also lucky enough to be the champion of the world’s oldest tree species—the yew, which is also a superhero. Members might remember my speech last year when I called it the Dr Who of trees due to its powers to regenerate and live on and on, defying mortality, not to mention its life-saving powers in providing ingredients for cancer drugs.

Our woodland species champions will know that a decrease in native tree species means huge loss of species’ habitats and, ultimately, no life support for our insects and mammals, including us upright mammals. Nearly half of our native woodland is in poor condition for biodiversity, and of all the ancient woodland that was mapped in Scotland about 40 years ago, around 12.5 per cent has been lost to fragmentation and failed regeneration. That trend must be reversed if we are to protect our most biodiverse habitats and sequester the required amount of carbon to halt climate change. New woodland creation and natural regeneration will need to happen on a faster and far greater scale than ever before. Natural regeneration across Scotland is severely impacted by grazing by herbivores, especially deer. Woodland regeneration could provide new habitat and extend existing ranges for many woodland-dependent species.

Biodiversity loss will affect us all. Before I sit down, I want to say how heartened I am that so many of my colleagues have asked to speak in the debate to highlight the importance of Scotland’s natural heritage. I look forward to hearing about the species that they hold most dear and continue to champion.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the open debate, with speeches of absolutely no more than four minutes, please.

Photo of Alexander Burnett Alexander Burnett Conservative

As the species champion for that endangered species the pearl mussel, I am delighted to take part in the debate, which has been brought to the chamber by Gillian Martin, and to discuss the problems that the species faces. I am lucky enough to live beside the River Dee, which is one of the most famous salmon rivers in the world. Anyone who has been there will say how incredible it is. We welcome people from across the world in their bids to cast a fly for our salmon. In order not to disappoint expectations, I refer members to my entry in the register of interests in relation to the Dee.

For those who do not know, I point out that salmon stocks are important in the battle to increase pearl mussel numbers, because the larvae rely for their survival on host fish, including salmon. Pearl mussels each release about 2 million to 3 million larvae, which are either inhaled by or settle in the gills of salmon, where they remain in the winter then drop off into the gravel the following spring. Members can see why salmon stocks are so important to the survival of pearl mussels.

A co-ordinated effort is required to help to save the pearl mussel, so I will take this opportunity to talk about three projects from across Scotland that are bidding to improve salmon stocks and, consequentially, pearl mussel numbers. The first is at Dryhope farm in the Scottish Borders, which won the Scottish Land & Estates enhancing our environment award in 2018. The project linked upland peatland restoration with salmon fishing on the River Tweed, from catchment to catching fish. It was found that damaged peat and drainage channels were reducing the capacity of peatland to stay wet and regulate water flow. By restoring those, the gravels can be stabilised so that fish ova are not swept away and thereby become unviable. That results in an increase in fish stock, which ultimately benefits pearl mussels.

As a side note, I point out that that project also increases carbon storage, improves water quality and creates better habitats for upland wildlife such as black grouse and hen harriers, which I know the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment champions. It is a fantastic project for much of the local environment.

Another project that has created a huge boost for pearl mussel numbers is run by the Ness & Beauly Fisheries Trust. After obtaining further funding from SSE, the trust continued the work of the pearls in peril project, with the result that, between 2012 and 2018, more than 2,500 fish were exposed to pearl mussel larvae. In 2017, monitoring showed that up to 25 per cent of all fish captured were carrying the larvae, with more than 100 on each gill in some cases.

Finally, Vattenfall UK has committed €3 million to several research projects, with the River Dee Trust, Aberdeenshire Council and Marine Scotland all gaining shares. Local to me, a project is looking to provide previously unknown information on salmon and sea trout movements out at sea. I am grateful to Vattenfall for contributing to that important research.

Although we welcome companies investing in restoring our environment, we need the Scottish Government to do more. Legislation has made poaching pearl mussels illegal, but not enough is being done to enforce that. We need to take further steps not only to prevent illegal poaching but to increase numbers of that endangered species, and of host species such as salmon, which are also under threat. We cannot rely only on private companies to make the investment, so I urge the Scottish National Party Government to do more to protect our environment.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Gillian Martin for securing this debate to celebrate world environment day, which was held earlier this month.

This year’s theme for world environment day was air pollution, given the shocking fact that nine out of 10 people around the world are breathing polluted air. Even when I travel to and from Edinburgh, I am aware that there is a noticeable change between city life and my Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituency. Luckily, if I ever feel the need for a lungful of fresh air, I am completely spoiled with some of the best opportunities for hill walking in Scotland. If members wish to stretch their legs in Scotland’s most stunning constituency, they are more than welcome to join me—they can bring their own sticks.

If we go on that walk, we might come across the rare and endangered sticky catchfly—a plant for which I am delighted to be the species champion. Presiding Officer, I was going to test your patience by bringing in a sample of sticky catchfly today, but unfortunately it is endangered and very fragile. It is restricted to just a few sites in Wales and Scotland. It can be found on Arthur’s Seat, which is just behind us here in Edinburgh, but it is most often found in the Hillfoots cliffs of the south Ochils, which are lit up by clusters of beautiful pink flowers and are home to the largest population of sticky catchfly in the UK. As species champion, I have the great pleasure of having the opportunity to—

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I thank the member for giving way, because I need to go to another event, which I am chairing, at 1 o’clock. I am the species champion for the slow worm. Does the member agree that it is a grand thing that the slow worm is one of the most sexually active species on the planet?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I am not entirely sure how to respond to that. I suppose, in the interests of sustainability of the species, that it must be a good thing.

As I said, it is a great pleasure to be species champion for the sticky catchfly and to work with organisations such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Stirling and Clackmannanshire local group and Alva Glen Heritage Trust, which has allowed me to learn more about the vital work that they do to protect local biodiversity and to encourage the growth of sticky catchfly. Incredibly important reintroduction work, which has involved seeds being collected from the Yellow Craig cliffs above Blairlogie—with which Bruce Crawford will be very familiar—and grown in allotments in Bridge of Allan, has led to the successful reintroduction of 40 sticky catchfly plants in places such as Alva Glen, where sticky catchfly had become extinct.

The plant is rumoured to have been King James VI of Scotland’s favourite flower 400 years ago, and it is down to the invaluable dedication of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Stirling and Clackmannanshire local group that the plant may be enjoyed—I hope—for another 400 years.

As species champions, we all know how crucial the local work that is done by wildlife groups is in protecting the vulnerable and endangered species that we represent. That great work extends beyond species to the environment itself. We must see the work to protect species as part of wider efforts to tackle climate breakdown.

Under this Scottish Government, Scotland is seen as a world leader in setting ambitious green targets—and rightly so. My Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituency is seen as a green leader here in Scotland. Under the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal, my constituency will become the base for Scotland’s international environment centre. Investment of £22 million will create a research and policy hub at the University of Stirling, and an environmental business incubator in Clackmannanshire, which will be tasked with providing a comprehensive approach to unlocking inclusive and green economic growth. Stirling and Clackmannanshire will therefore be at the forefront of providing the conditions for Scottish business to prosper in a way that ensures a cleaner, sustainable and healthier environment for the generations that follow.

I hope that today’s debate will serve as a powerful reminder that now is the time to act. Locally and nationally, we in Scotland are stepping up to that challenge. I wish to see our ambition being matched by our friends across the UK, the European Union and the world, to ensure that we tackle climate breakdown in order to secure a tomorrow for the species that we champion in the chamber today.

Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

I, too, thank Gillian Martin for securing her motion for debate.

World environment day 2019 gives us a poignant reminder of the stark reality that is facing our natural environment. As Gillian Martin’s motion highlights, nearly

“one-in-ten ... species are at risk of extinction” in Scotland, and one in 25 species are under threat world wide. The world is on red alert for its future.

However, progress is being made—we can and must save our biodiversity for future generations, but we must act now. Recently, Scottish Labour announced a climate emergency, as did the Scottish Government, and I was proud to vote in support of that statement in the Parliament. It is an important step in recognising the serious state of affairs. However, I also call on the Scottish Government to declare an environment emergency. When better to do that than in the context of world environment day? I hope that the minister will consider my call and make comment on it.

The interrelationship between climate change and its effects on our environment are increasingly evidenced. We are now unlikely to meet our country’s internationally binding 2020 biodiversity targets. We now need a bold and inclusive set of actions to establish a post-2020 biodiversity action plan. Can the minister give us some reassurance on how that will be developed?

I was happy to see the species champions recognised in the motion and the small part that we can play in highlighting the work of the tireless volunteers and organisations who work to protect various rare and wonderful animals and plants. I am the champion of the forester moth. How they are faring is not well known due to their elusive nature; despite being beautiful, emerald green daytime moths, they are very shy.

When I went to the Mabie forest in Dumfries to do some forester moth spotting, I enjoyed being in the dappled wooded glades and marshlands—the specialised mixed habitat that such moths need—but I did not see a single forester moth. However, Butterfly Conservation Scotland has now developed a pheromone lure—do not worry, it is not something scary—to attract forester moths, so that they can be spotted in different places. I might have better luck next time.

A forester moth has been seen in a new site on Mull, which is very exciting. Last year, forester moth caterpillars were also found for what is probably the first time in Scotland, in Argyll.

Butterfly Conservation is also working with farmers promoting the agri-environment and climate scheme. The scheme encourages farmers to maintain suitable sites for cattle grazing, which is essential for the forester moth. Such schemes and others protecting the rest of our wildlife must not be threatened due to Brexit—whatever the future may hold.

All the Scottish Labour MSPs are now species champions. I will not name and shame anyone in any other party who is not a species champion, but it would be a good story to tell if all the MSPs were species champions. My friend and colleague, Alex Rowley, is species champion for an ant. What type was it?

Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

Thank you. He is species champion for the narrow-headed ant and has actually spotted them in the Perthshire highlands.

This year’s world environment day theme is “beat air pollution”. On Tuesday, I was outside the Parliament to support campaigners for Mark Ruskell’s Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill, which we will be considering this afternoon. I believe that the Scottish Government will have a change of heart on that and see how much sense it makes. Let us help beat air pollution as a mark of respect on world environment day, and give relief to those living in poor local environments.

I thank Gillian Martin for giving us the opportunity to look forward to creating robust actions for a better environment, from local to global.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I, too, thank my fellow champion, Gillian Martin, for securing this important debate. I declare an interest as the species champion for the wild cherry—a tree with white flowers, as distinct from the more common pink cherry tree.

When we think of Scotland’s natural heritage, our biodiversity and the threats faced by many species across our land, it is the threat to our native fauna that tends to make the headlines, but our flora is of equal if not more importance, as plants underpin all life on earth.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting a great example of the wild cherry tree, in bloom, in Dawson park in my constituency. The visit was organised by the Woodland Trust Scotland, and I thank the trust for the work that it does on the creation, restoration and maintenance of our woodlands. The trust has identified that at least 46 per cent of our native woodland is in poor condition and around 12.5 per cent of our ancient woodland has been lost to fragmentation and failed regeneration over the past 40 years.

We spoke of woodlands’ benefits when tackling climate change and their effect on carbon capture, moderating the local climate, saving energy, flood management, improving our health and clean air. A recent study in Chicago showed that the trees in the city remove 10.8 tonnes of pollutant material a day, and a University of Columbia study has shown that asthma rates among children aged four to five fell by 25 per cent in areas where there was a concentration of trees. The UK has one of the world’s highest rates of childhood asthma, with around 15 per cent of children affected and a higher prevalence in lower socioeconomic groups in urban areas, so that is an important benefit of urban woodlands.

I am encouraged that the Scottish Government recognises the importance of woodland and it is to be applauded for its work on afforestation. In 2017, 14 million new trees were planted, which accounted for more than three quarters of tree planting in the UK. The Scottish Government’s Scottish forestry strategy notes the importance of urban woodlands and aims to increase urban tree canopy across Scotland’s towns and cities—which Dundee does quite well, although there is progress to be made. I welcome that aim and would be interested to learn from the minister what specific steps the Government is considering to support it.

Another benefit that was highlighted on my visit was the positive effects that trees and woodlands can have on people’s wellbeing. In Dawson park, alongside the beautiful cherry blossoms sits the Duntrune community garden, which is managed and maintained by the Scottish Association for Mental Health in partnership with Dundee City Council. From the gardens, SAMH runs its chrysalis project, which is a therapeutic horticultural service that works with people to support their recovery journey by developing self-resilience and employability skills. Such examples are important to highlight, because they illustrate the important part that green spaces of all shapes and sizes play not only in protecting the environment but in bringing benefit to the people around them.

If we are to protect Scotland’s nature—flora or fauna—raising awareness, engaging with local communities and encouraging them to take action, individually and collectively, are paramount and must be part of our future thinking on these matters. In Dundee, I am proud that that thinking is already firmly embedded in our approach to the protection and enhancement of our urban woodlands. Dundee’s strategic plan states that its urban woodlands are a vital element of delivering our vision for the city by helping to build stronger communities and to promote social inclusion and active citizenship through community ownership and local participation in the management of our green spaces.

Having identified the importance of our local woodlands in supporting health and wellbeing, Dundee City Council applied for funding from a variety of sources. It was successful and is to be congratulated on following through on 21 projects. The funding will increase community involvement through the establishment of the Dundee trees and woods in greenspace—TWIG—project.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could you come to a close, please?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

I ask the minister, when she responds, to outline the Government’s current thinking on funding for such projects.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Speeches are starting to go over the four-minute mark, which may disadvantage members later on.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I thank Gillian Martin for bringing this important debate to the chamber as we mark world environment day. It has taken decades, but we have finally reached a point when news about our natural environment makes daily headlines. We can no longer claim ignorance of the impact that human activity is having on the natural ecosystems that sustain us—although, sadly, a few prominent individuals continue to do so.

I congratulate the efforts of environmental non-governmental organisations that have contributed to that growing awareness, including members of Scottish Environment LINK and its “Scotland’s Nature on Red Alert” report. The report brings home the realities of what biodiversity loss might look like in Scotland: fewer wild salmon as the water temperatures of our rivers and oceans rise; fewer kittiwakes—although they are a common sight along our coastlines, they have already seen their population decline by 66 per cent; and some native woodland plants could disappear as climate change intensifies.

As the report makes clear:

“Our habitats and species are of value not just in their own right, but also for the ecosystem services they support and on which we all depend.”

That is why the findings of the intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem service should be a call to action.

The scientists have shown that nature faces more trouble now than at any other point in human history. Because of pressures from human society, including expanding agricultural lands, overfishing and pollution, 1 million species may be pushed to extinction in the coming decade, with extraordinary consequences for life on this planet. That has major implications for our food systems, human health and water security.

The future might seem bleak, but the co-chairman of the IPBES report, Professor Josef Settele, has stressed that society can mitigate many of the worst effects by changing the way that we grow our food and the way that we generate energy, by our response to the climate emergency, and by how we recycle our waste. The key message from that scientist is that we need transformative change.

Individuals can act, of course. We can change our diets, choose active travel, and reduce our consumption to limit demand for natural resources. However, we must acknowledge that 90 companies are responsible for two thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions in the industrial age, and they have to change their behaviour.

The situation also puts a responsibility on national Governments and, indeed, Parliaments around the world to respond, including in Scotland. We are fast approaching the end date of Scotland’s 2020 biodiversity road map, but one in 11 Scottish species is at risk of extinction, and we are on track to meet only seven of the 20 targets set by the international community to protect biodiversity.

There is a tendency for us to focus overwhelmingly on the aspects of the interlinked climate and environmental emergencies that affect humans, but our policies and actions need to recognise that our plant and animal species are valuable in their own right. I am a passionate species champion for the brown hare and the mountain hare, and I am well aware of the impact that climate change is having on the mountain hare. Mountain hares’ snow-white winter coats mark them out to predators in our warmer winters, in which some hillsides see no snowfall.

Thankfully, many of the actions that we need to take to address the climate emergency involve restoring our natural habitats, which will be critical in tackling the biodiversity crisis. That includes restoring our peatlands, planting native woodland species, holding back from building new roads, and applying smarter planning principles to ensure that our towns and cities incorporate the maximum amount of green space.

In closing, I want to mark the work of the late Polly Higgins, who was an inspirational lawyer who campaigned throughout her life for the crime of ecocide to be established in international law. Ecocide is the loss and damage of ecosystems by corporate and state actors. Polly Higgins was determined that there should be a higher accountability for crimes against nature. In 2010, she presented her proposal to the United Nations, and she continued to champion the cause until her untimely death in April this year.

I hope that the Scottish Parliament can find the opportunity to continue the work to strengthen the protections for wildlife and habitats in this country and fight the climate and environmental emergency.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask the remaining speakers to consider making their speeches three and a half minutes.

Photo of Angus MacDonald Angus MacDonald Scottish National Party

As Gillian Martin’s welcome motion highlights, world environment day was on 5 June. The day has helped to give focus to the need for nature-based solutions to be deployed to tackle climate change and to make our nature more resilient.

It is clear that the Scottish Government is making significant progress in tackling climate change, but we need to up our game and address biodiversity loss as well. As we know, we are in a climate emergency. According to Scottish Environment LINK, which was represented at an event that I hosted yesterday, we are also in an ecological emergency. There is no doubt that we must redouble our efforts to protect our environment and reverse the effects of climate change.

The importance of protecting our environment cannot be overstated, of course. It is a fact that sea levels are rising and that we are seeing more extreme weather events than ever before. Insects and invertebrates are in decline, not entirely through climate change but also through habitat destruction and biodiversity loss—which, in turn, is affecting climate change and our environment.

One way to keep the issue on everyone’s radar is through the species champion initiative. Buglife Scotland tasked me with being the species champion for the bog sun-jumper spider—or Heliophanus dampfi to those of us who are more acquainted with the wee critter. I assure members that it is cuter than it sounds—it is not cuddly, but it is cute. Unfortunately, like Gillian Martin, I have not acquired any spider-like powers since I became the species champion for that spider, but I live in hope—I think.

At just 3mm long, the spider might be very small but it has huge character. It is mainly black in colour, but it has distinctive and striking iridescent green mouth parts. It is also incredibly rare: it is found in only six places across the UK, five of which are in Scotland and one of which is in Wales. Two of those places are in my Falkirk East constituency. Coal-bed methane extraction in my patch was a further threat to this little spider, so the Scottish Government’s effective ban on fracking has had another otherwise unknown but positive unintended consequence.

The little spider lives in lowland raised bogs—habitat that is crucial in tackling climate change. Unfortunately, raised bogs have declined by more than 90 per cent over the past 100 years, with the majority of bogland left damaged and in poor condition. Protecting our remaining peatlands is essential. Not only are they important for threatened wildlife, but they also store and regulate huge amounts of carbon and water, helping to reduce greenhouse emissions and prevent localised flooding.

Around eight years ago, the RSPB proposed a levy for peat use in horticulture and the UK Government published a white paper setting out its ambition for the horticulture sector to end its use of peat by 2030 through voluntary partnership. No levy has been forthcoming, unfortunately, but the Scottish Government could act where the UK Government has ultimately failed by looking into the possibility of implementing a levy on horticultural peat use. A welcome development would be consideration of new regulations on the labelling of products containing peat that are sold in Scotland, and another positive step would be to consider stopping the use of peat altogether by public bodies, including local authorities.

Scotland’s peatlands are internationally important; yet, despite that, peat extraction continues. I hope that the issue stays on the Government’s radar over the next few years.

Photo of Finlay Carson Finlay Carson Conservative

I thank Gillian Martin for bringing this debate to the chamber. I am delighted to speak in it and to follow on from Spiderman.

Members will be aware that Robert Pattinson has been confirmed as the new Batman, but they perhaps do not know that I am the Scottish Parliament’s very own Batman, as I am the species champion for the Leisler’s bat. However I, too, have not been bitten by a member of the species that I champion, and I have not brought my cape.

I thank Liz Ferrel for providing a briefing for the debate, outlining how bats can enhance the national environment and detailing the threats that they face. As predators of common insects, bats can tell us a lot about the state of the environment, and they are sensitive to changes in land use. Many of the pressures that bats face, such as landscape change, agricultural intensification, development and habitat fragmentation, are relevant to other wildlife species, which makes bats excellent indicators of the wider health of the UK’s wildlife.

Although bats can provide a valuable service for agriculture, some historical agricultural practices have had a detrimental impact on bats. The use of pesticides meant that bats suffered from a lack of insect prey. The practice of removing hedgerows and woods from farmland is also concerning, as bats often rely on those features for roosting, hunting and getting around. Indeed, the Leisler’s bat roosts not in roofs but in woodlands. There is a large colony in the Wood of Cree, which is just up the road from my home.

It is welcome that the national bat monitoring programme says that populations of bats are recovering and beginning to stabilise, although that has not always been the case. We want to continue the pursuit of positive environmental legislation, as it is vital that that continues. That is why I am backing calls from the Bat Conservation Trust for the Scottish Government to immediately take action to reverse biodiversity loss and clearly lay out what it hopes to achieve after 2020. It is disappointing that, at the moment, the Government is failing to meet its targets around habitat loss, the control of invasive species and the extinction of other species.

The Government needs to significantly increase its efforts ahead of 2020 and must look now at measures that can be implemented to ensure that biodiversity is not reduced. One way in which that could be achieved is through establishing a national ecological network, which would give us a practical, strategic and long-term way in which to invest in natural assets such as peatland and woodland, which can, as we know, store carbon.

It is not only bats that are affected by changes in our natural environment. The Galloway Fisheries Trust has been doing some fantastic work in my constituency to save the sparling in the River Cree. The sparling—or the cucumber fish, because it smells like cucumber—was found in various Scottish rivers in the past but died out because of overfishing, pollution or barriers preventing it from reaching its spawning grounds.

Records show that, historically, up to 6 tonnes of sparling, which equates to about 50,000 fish, were being caught in the River Cree alone. During the sparling’s annual migration, children would grab the fish out of the river and take them for their tea. However, there has been a huge decrease in numbers, and the River Cree is now one of only three rivers in Scotland in which the fish are found. The Galloway Fisheries Trust project was a two-year scientific and educational initiative that was aimed at restoring the fish populations. It held community events to reconnect the community with the sparling’s heritage, and local schools were involved. The lower Cree has been designated a site of special scientific interest in order to protect the rare fish, and it is hoped that the population can be successfully increased.

The debate is an important one, as it comes at a time when we are all looking to protect our environment. I hope that some of the points that have been raised today can be taken forward positively.

Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

I, too, thank my colleague Gillian Martin for bringing this important debate to the chamber today.

I am the species champion for the red squirrel, but I am proud to say that I am also the very first species champion for seagrass. Seagrasses are flowering plants that have adapted, over millions of years, to life in the sea. The meadows that seagrasses form play an important role in keeping our oceans healthy and stocked with food. They provide a home for all kinds of marine life including food fishes, such as juvenile cod and plaice, and endangered species, such as seahorses. Additionally, seagrasses absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the surrounding sea water and have an important role to play in tackling the climate emergency.

However, like so many species, seagrass has not been immune to global declines. Research that is taking place at University College London provisionally estimates the current extent of UK seagrass to be a little bit more than 8,500 hectares, which is down from about 76,000 hectares at the turn of the 20th century. That is an estimated loss of nearly 90 per cent of our coastal seagrass meadows in just 100 years. Even if we make a cautious estimate from the data, it is abundantly clear that we have lost more than three quarters of our seagrass meadows and, with them, the ecosystem services that seagrass meadows provide.

Today, we are tackling both a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis that were started many generations ago and that have only increased in severity through decades of intensified industrial production and global economic expansion. It is clear that our response to those challenges must be twofold: we need to consider what we can do now to stop further losses from current practices and what can be done to restore habitats that have been degraded by what has happened in the past.

The good news is that, over the past decade, an increased understanding of the reproductive biology of seagrasses and their environmental requirements has led to vast improvements in the capacity of scientists to restore the meadows. In Scotland, we have two seagrass species—eelgrass and dwarf eelgrass—which have both suffered losses. Their reintroduction into known previous sites provides a significant opportunity to enhance their recovery and support biodiversity.

The UK is a signatory to the Paris climate agreement, which emphasises the critical importance of conserving seagrasses and other blue carbon ecosystems. Seagrass meadows rapidly store organic carbon from sources inside and external to the meadow in sediment that remains locked up and stable for very long periods of time.

I could go on, but I know that my time is limited, and I will respect that.

Our seagrass meadows are very precious. Organisations such as Project Seagrass are undertaking fantastic mapping and restorative work, and I thank Dr Richard Lilley and his team for all the hard work that they do, not just here but all over the world. I ask people who are watching the debate to please help us to save our seagrass. Join Project Seagrass, become a seagrass spotter and ensure the survival of this vital part of our ecosystem.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Last month’s UN report on biodiversity was clear that our global ecosystem faces a crisis that is on a par with the threat from climate change and that urgent action is required. That has implications for policy makers everywhere, including here in Scotland.

Since 2013, I have been species champion for the curlew, which is a barometer of biodiversity. It has suffered catastrophic decline in Ireland and it is now one of the most pressing conservation priorities for Scotland and across Britain. It is time to step up the actions taken in its defence.

Of the issues that affect the future of the curlew I will highlight just two, for which Scottish Government ministers have responsibility, and I will ask whether our public policy priorities need to change in those areas.

One issue is predator control in Strathbraan. MSPs recently received an open letter from those who are involved in curlew conservation action in that area, and their conclusions should concern us all. They argue that measures to control predation by ravens on breeding curlew are essential, as part of a balanced programme of wader conservation, and that without such targeted conservation action, species such as the curlew will be lost. They call for the Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage to press ahead this year with bold conservation measures in Strathbraan and elsewhere. If that does not happen, they say that it might come to be seen as a defining moment, when the battle to save the curlew was lost.

As species champion for the curlew, I will seek a detailed response from ministers and SNH, and I welcome any comments on that topic that the minister might offer today.

A second specific example is in Gillian Martin’s constituency, where Transport Scotland is considering rerouting the A96 away from Inverurie and building a new dual carriageway through farmland and semi-natural habitats to the north and east of the town. RSPB Scotland says that that area contains moderate clusters of breeding curlew, which would be disrupted and potentially displaced if that option was selected for the A96 project. If we are serious about tackling the biodiversity crisis, the breeding sites of endangered species need to be given the priority that they deserve by transport and infrastructure ministers, as well as by environment ministers.

Of course, good things are going on, and we should celebrate them. RSPB Scotland’s trial curlew management project monitors breeding numbers, predator activity and habitats in key sites in Scotland and across Britain, to establish what more should be done to protect the species. SNH has been supportive of such work in past years and I hope that it will be again.

Last month, I was lucky to visit the demonstration farm run by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust at Auchnerran near Tarland, which the minister is familiar with. I saw how efforts to support one species bring benefits to others. For example, in that case, curlew, lapwing and oyster-catchers all thrive in what is both an eco-friendly and commercial agricultural environment.

We need more such projects to support biodiversity. We need policy makers in Government, here and worldwide, to be clear about their priorities and to take decisions that will make a difference to species such as the curlew, for the sake of future generations.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I will do my best to get around to the many points that members have raised. As ever, it has been an interesting and enjoyable debate.

I thank Gillian Martin, because I always look forward either to responding to this debate or, when I was not a member of the Government, speaking in it. It is one of the highlights of the year, not least because of all the weird and wonderful stories that it tends to bring to light. We discover that we have a number of superheroes across the chamber, such as Finlay Carson and Angus MacDonald. One year, in relation to the yew tree, Gillian Martin regaled us with tales of her goth days. Today did not disappoint. I did a quick search for Gillian Martin’s potential superhero powers. We might need a catchier name than “seal woman” but she has some great powers and behaviours to look forward to, such as high intelligence—of course, she already has that—travelling, foraging, resting, mating, pupping, digesting, socialising and moulting.

Bruce Crawford made an interesting intervention about the sexual activity of slow worms as Keith Brown spoke about the sticky catchfly.

The species champion initiative covers species on land as well as in the sea, and plants as well as animals. Shona Robison raised the important point that plants underpin all life on earth. This initiative is important because it covers such a wide variety and diversity of species.

I thank everyone for their contributions, which not only were enjoyable but got to the heart of some of the most serious issues that we face today. We realise from listening to the speeches that there is a very delicate balance to our environment and, as Lewis Macdonald has just pointed out, species such as the curlew act as a barometer for biodiversity and a gauge for how the environment is doing. That is why I thank Gillian Martin for the event that she held in Parliament with Scottish Environment LINK on world environment day last week, which highlighted not only some of the major challenges that we face but the ways in which all of us in society can do something about the situation.

Much of the fight has been led by our young people. Last week’s event was attended by the Sunnyside ocean defenders, who personally handed me their contributions to the consultation on our proposed environmental governance and principles. I also want to mention the Ullapool sea savers. Young people are really at the vanguard of some of the action that we are seeing at the moment.

It is also important to remember that Scotland is not only taking action but leading the world with the ambitious targets that we are putting in place. With our recent amendments to the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, we are aiming for net zero emissions by 2045. If we achieve that, it will mean that, within a generation, Scotland will no longer be contributing negatively to climate change.

A number of members have mentioned the recent global assessment of biodiversity that has highlighted the serious impacts of the biodiversity loss that is happening around the world. That report underlines the links between biodiversity loss and climate change; indeed, members will have heard the First Minister say in response to a question from Claudia Beamish that biodiversity loss is as important as climate change. As with climate change, we want Scotland to be at the forefront of addressing those issues.

From the hard-working pollinators that sustain our ecosystems to our keystone species, we have taken action to address the climate emergency. Pollinators are a vital part of our biodiversity and wider environment—many of our native wildflowers, shrubs and trees would be unable to exist without them—and bees and hoverflies also provide the backbone for much of Scotland’s agriculture, contributing around £43 million to the economy each year. In 2017, we set out a 10-year pollinator strategy for Scotland to make our country more pollinator friendly and to halt and reverse the decline in native pollinator populations.

With regard to other species that we have, I highlight our red squirrel population, which is championed by Gail Ross, who, like Gillian Martin, is a champion of land and sea, with a few species to their name. That population was seriously in decline, due to their invasive non-native cousins, the grey squirrels, but thanks to the work of the saving Scotland’s red squirrels project, they are now returning to areas in Aberdeenshire and Tayside where they had previously disappeared.

However, there is, as always, so much more that we need to do, and a number of members—particularly Finlay Carson, Claudia Beamish and Alison Johnstone—made that point during the debate. As far as biodiversity is concerned, we want Scotland to be the first country to carry out a thorough analysis of what we are already doing, the areas where we need to do more and what we should be doing differently, and we aim to write to the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee with our initial assessment by the end of 2019.

Alison Johnstone asked about our biodiversity targets. We are on track to achieve seven out of the 20 that were agreed by the international community in Aichi in 2010, and we are progressing towards another 12. However, we have to step up and do more if we are going to meet the 2020 deadline.

That is where species champions can play such a key role. It will come as no surprise that, as champion for the hen harrier—something that was mentioned during the debate—I feel very passionately about the species champion initiative, and it is clear that many in the chamber feel the same way. The initiative was relaunched in September 2016 and, to date, 104 MSPs—or 80 per cent of the Parliament—are now species champions. However, I want to echo Claudia Beamish’s call for the remaining 20 per cent to join in; it is not too late to sign up, and I really want 100 per cent of MSPs to be involved.

Before I finish, I want to do my job as species champion and draw people’s attention to the hen harrier. I represent a constituency where the harrier should be thriving; however, it is not. As we are all aware, deliberate and illegal persecution continues to threaten the very existence of raptors, and we need to end it. There are a number of on-going projects that are geared towards growing and sustaining raptor populations in Scotland. For example, the heads up for harriers project works with estates to identify, monitor and thereby protect hen harrier nests. At the end of 2017, we set up an independent group to conduct an in-depth review of how grouse moor management can be made sustainable and compliant with the law, and one of the key issues that is being examined is raptor persecution. Led by Professor Werritty of the University of Dundee, the group is due to report later in the summer.

There is also the partnership for action against wildlife crime in Scotland, which comprises a variety of organisations and sectors, including the police, the shooting industry, the science community and conservation groups, the ultimate aim of which is to reduce raptor crime. In response to Alexander Burnett, I point out that I chaired a meeting of that group yesterday; it has a sub-group on freshwater pearl mussels that is considering all the issues in that respect.

Unfortunately, however, even with so many groups working together, harrier conservation efforts are continually being let down. In the last few months, for example, we have seen the disappearances of hen harriers Marci and Skylar. The Government, though, is committed to doing more and, indeed, to doing all that we can to end this persecution.

It is fantastic to have been able to focus on the wonderful diversity of our species in Scotland and to hear the enthusiasm and commitment of members in the chamber. The debate has also raised awareness of some of the serious issues that we face in Scotland, but I want to say again that the Scottish Government is taking the matter very seriously and is taking action to prevent further biodiversity loss. I hope that the debate has prompted us all to consider what further action we need to take to protect our native species and enhance biodiversity right across Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes the debate. The meeting is suspended until 2 o’clock.

13:36 Meeting suspended.

14:00 On resuming—