Rural and Environment
World Wildlife Day
Wildlife and the issues around it are very much on my priority list. There is no doubt that our stunning natural environment is one of Scotland’s most precious assets.
How we own, manage, control, conserve, promote, support and develop it matters hugely to this Government’s ambitions for our country and today on World Wildlife Day (Friday 3 March), I’m reflecting on recent successes and the challenges that lie ahead in protecting our wildlife.
We are blessed with genuinely iconic species which hold a special place in hearts of people, several are emblematic of our wild land and forests. For these and many other reasons they must be conserved and treasured. Wildlife is also increasingly important for tourism and contributes to our economy, particularly in rural areas.
Look at the fantastic appeal of sea eagles on Mull; hen harriers on Orkney, the Uists, and around Langholm; golden eagles on Harris; and ospreys at Loch Garten, Loch of the Lowes, Tweed valley, and Caerlaverock; beavers in Argyll and Tayside; salmon in the Borders and Perth; seabirds and grey seals on the Isle of May; and whales and dolphins at Gairloch.
These are just some places in Scotland that are wonderfully exciting to visit thanks to these charismatic animals. And this is a terrific selling point for Scotland not only to bring tourists to our shores but to encourage all of us to get outside and see what’s on our doorstep.
We have many good news stories when it comes to birds of prey. The recovery of several species including buzzards and ospreys, the successful reintroductions of red kite and white-tailed eagle, and the recent 15% increase – which is in real terms a recovery – in golden eagle numbers from the results of the last national survey.
Reintroduced species have significantly helped boost wildlife tourism in several parts of Scotland, with the Galloway Kite trail recently reported as putting over £8 million into the local tourism economy since 2004.
We are the first to officially reintroduce a mammal to the UK – the beaver. I have been determined to find a pragmatic approach, which balances the biodiversity benefits of reintroducing beavers with the obvious need to limit difficulties for our farmers.
On a more sombre note, let me turn to wildlife crime. The illegal killing of our animals remains a national disgrace. The fourth wildlife crime annual report shone a spotlight on the ongoing issues we are facing to protect Scotland’s wildlife from illegal activity.
I remain determined to tackle outdated practices and attitudes. Scotland’s wildlife is for everyone to enjoy; not for criminals to destroy for their own ends.
I was involved in bringing in Vicarious Liability and there have now been a couple of successful prosecutions. We funded a free disposal scheme for illegal pesticides; General Licence restrictions have been put in place; we are increasing penalties for wildlife crime; and we are going to work with Police Scotland on new investigation support for these crimes as well as reviewing the way wildlife crime prevention is tackled in Scotland.
I also recently started a review of satellite tagging data to get to the bottom of why so many of our tagged birds of prey are going missing. I will get that report later this year and I will consider it very carefully.
Of course Brexit is one of the major topics of discussion when it comes to the Environment as with many areas of policy. As set out in Scotland’s Place in Europe and as I have made clear, there will be no dilution of the environmental standards we currently have.
Sadly, wildlife crime isn’t the only reason some of our animals are not doing well. Declines of species can also be linked to the availability of food, poor weather and changes in habitat and we are also working to tackle that where we can.
So on World Wildlife Day it is important to remind ourselves that we must protect our whole environment for the benefit of Scotland’s people, wild places and all of the species who live in them.