RECENT research from the Natural History Museum and the RSPB shows the UK at the bottom of the G7 league table for how much natural diversity it has left.
The Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), rates 240 countries on how nature is faring under pressure from human activity and land use change. Scotland sits at 28 (1 is lowest) with England at 7.
Yet this simple figure clouds the complexity of measuring and managing ecosystems which must often exist within the conflicting interests of industry, tourism, development and climate change.
Scotland has an estimated 90,000 species (higher if all microbes are included) and hundreds of these are protected. Some of the rarest – like the freshwater pearl mussel, or pine hoverfly – are also small; and while their survival may not be immediately evident nevertheless there are people working across Scotland to ensure these species are not lost to us.
Preserving myriad habitats is a central activity for land managers such as Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) and many protected species rely on human intervention to recreate an environment where wild things can once more survive. For example, more than 5000 hectares of peatland have been restored since 2014 and another 30,000 hectares have been identified for restoration which is good news for endangered beetles, blooms and bog mosses.
Managed plantations support important populations of many rare or iconic species such as the red squirrel, pine marten and goshawk. More elusive species, including many moths, dragonflies, orchids and lichens, depend on good management of far more diverse habitats. In also caring for peatlands, coastal wetlands, alpine climates, lochs and mountains, FLS and others work to overcome the habitat destruction of previous centuries.
Collaboration is key. Partnership working allows sensitive habitats to be managed in totality even where ownership rests with different organisations. Joint management projects allow shared expertise and resources to benefit the wider environment and programmes such as those for the Scottish wildcat or the osprey demonstrate the success of this approach.
Across Scotland private and public land managers are putting in place schemes to remove invasive non-native species, restore ancient woodlands and marshes, and expand and connect woodlands to create better spaces for more species to thrive. It is a programme of intervention but with the clear intention of preserving native species.
Restoring biodiversity, protecting threatened species and retaining Scotland’s diverse ecosystems are priority areas in meeting ambitious national climate targets. As COP26 draws attention to Scotland, it is for all of us to show how well we understand the interleaving responsibilities of reducing carbon emissions through sustainable timber and forestry practice and keeping healthy land that will sustain our modern lifestyle expectations for generations to come.
The Biodiversity Intactness Index is a reminder that recent decades have seen wildlife decline, and that recovery requires land and ecosytems to be managed. We will continue to play our part in actively protecting and restoring habitats so that Scotland is a positive example of biodiversity in action.
Simon Hodgson is Chief Executive, Forestry & Land Scotland