Rural and Environment
World Wildlife Day
Ben Macpherson, Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment – UN World Wildlife Day
FROM mountain hares and sea eagles to porpoises and whales, Scotland boasts some incredible wildlife. This World Wildlife Day, people across the globe will join together – to appreciate the natural world around them, to learn more about the importance of conservation and to consider the ways in which we can all make a difference.
It has become increasingly clear that the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are the greatest challenges facing our world, and will be central to discussions at COP26 in Glasgow. Countries are coming to realise that, for people and planet to survive and flourish, we need to see our natural world as a precious asset that must be respected.
Habitat loss is a major cause of species decline but here in Scotland we are taking action to turn the tide. We have committed to protecting 30% of our land for nature by 2030, joining 50 other countries in doing so, with 37% of our seas already protected through our Marine Protected Area network.
As forests are the focus of this year’s World Wildlife Day, it is also important to mention that over 80% of all new trees planted in the UK are in Scotland – and over 40% are native woodlands. Our ambitious target to create 18,000 hectares of new woodland a year by 2024-25 is great news for the many species of wildlife that live in our woodlands. Together with peatland restoration, this will also play an important part in meeting Scotland’s world leading climate change targets.
Protecting our native species is another key concern. In Scotland we successfully reintroduced the Eurasian Beaver – the first reintroduction of any wild mammal in the UK. After being hunted to extinction 400 years ago, there is now a thriving population in Scotland.
We’ve also taken important steps to tackle wildlife crime. Last June, through the passing of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, we increased the maximum penalties for over 50 separate wildlife offences, and allowed Police Scotland more time to investigate these crimes. The most serious wildlife crimes will now attract a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. These are the toughest penalties in the UK and show the seriousness with which the Scottish Government treats wildlife crime.
An important part of this legislation is also the protection it affords to the iconic Mountain Hare. Our only native Hare now has legal protection, essentially stopping the unlicensed killing of the species throughout the year. This was one of the recommendations in the Werritty Report, along with the licensing of grouse shooting businesses. We hope to complete this legislation in the next parliamentary term – a move welcomed by conservation groups.
But it’s not just the countryside that benefits. For example, we are looking to create woodland on former open-cast coal mining sites to benefit biodiversity, landscapes and local communities – and create good, green jobs.
Helping Scotland’s wildlife is something we can all do – for instance, by putting up a bird feeder, planting bee and butterfly friendly flowers, avoiding peat based composts or leaving part of a garden to grow wild. Together, we can all help nature and encourage wildlife to thrive.