Brexit threat­ens to wipe out Scot­land’s rarest crea­tures

Char­i­ties warn new laws and fund­ing needed to pro­tect con­ser­va­tion work

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - MAR­TIN WIL­LIAMS

SCOT­LAND’S rarest species face be­ing oblit­er­ated in the fall-out from Brexit un­less ur­gent new laws and fund­ing is brought in to safe­guard vi­tal con­ser­va­tion work, a coali­tion of more than 30 lead­ing char­i­ties will warn next week.

They say at-risk an­i­mal species such as the red squir­rel, some birds of prey and sea mam­mals are in jeop­ardy be­cause of a lack of ac­tion in en­sur­ing vi­tal en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions are pro­vided in Scot­land af­ter the UK quits Eu­rope.

The Scot­tish En­vi­ron­ment Link (SEL) union of con­ser­va­tion groups will on Tues­day out­line the need for legally bind­ing mea­sures to en­sure that the na­tion’s nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, wildlife and air and wa­ter qual­ity are safe­guarded.

Among their im­me­di­ate con­cerns is there be­ing no mech­a­nism to re­place the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion’s Life-na­ture Fund, which has given £25 mil­lion over 25 years to Scot­land to help with more than 25 con­ser­va­tion projects.

They say vi­tal con­ser­va­tion work is at risk if no al­ter­na­tive fund­ing is found through match­ing con­tri­bu­tions from gov­ern­ment or else­where should there be no way of con­tin­u­ing ac­cess to the fund through the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Charles Dun­das, chair­man of SEL, said: “Scot­land has hugely ben­e­fited from EU fund­ing and pro­tec­tions with the LIFE Fund alone sup­port­ing con­ser­va­tion projects.

“If and when Brexit hap­pens, Scot­land (along with the rest of the UK) will lose the un­ri­valled sup­port of EU bod­ies and fund­ing. With only months to go, this poses a se­ri­ous threat to our frag­ile and pre­cious nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.”

Losers would in­clude a bid to stop Scot­land’s red squir­rels from be­com­ing ex­tinct.

Habi­tat loss, dis­ease and com­pe­ti­tion from non-na­tive greys have taken a huge toll on the reds and Scot­land re­tains 120,000 of the 138,000 thought to re­main in the UK.

At risk too are moves to pro­tect the corn­crake, one of Scot­land’s rarest birds, and the hen har­rier, which is said to be head­ing to the brink of ex­tinc­tion. Last year, it emerged hen har­rier num­bers have fallen by nine per cent in Scot­land since 2010 and the to­tal pop­u­la­tion was es­ti­mated to be fewer than 500 breed­ing pairs.

SEL say it would also hit moves to prop­erly pro­tect por­poise pop­u­la­tions that re­ceive LIFE fund­ing. Num­bers have been fall­ing rapidly due to a va­ri­ety of threats in­clud­ing tan­gling in fish­ing gear, chem­i­cal pol­lu­tion and dis­rup­tive boat noise.

LIFE sup­ports work to pro­tect At­lantic salmon, part of what SEL says is one of the most im­por­tant con­ser­va­tion projects ever un­der­taken in Scot­land.

Also hit would be a pro­gramme to save the fresh­wa­ter pearl mus­sel from ex­tinc­tion that sup­ported 19 sites in Scot­land – key breed­ing ar­eas for the whole of Eu­rope.

LIFE has also helped pre­serve some of Scot­land’s trea­sured land­scape be­cause of its Eu­ro­pean im­por­tance. Re­ceiv­ing sup­port was the restora­tion of the Flow Coun­try peat­lands in Caith­ness, one of the last great wilder­nesses in the UK and the preser­va­tion of primeval Celtic rain­for­est, the na­tive Cale­do­nian pinewoods and Scot­land’s coastal mead­ows, called machair.

SEL is con­cerned that the prospect of miss­ing out on LIFE comes against a back­ground of Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage bud­gets be­ing cut and an over­sub­scrip­tion to the Lot­tery Fund.

The coali­tion said: “With­out proper fund­ing, a lot of Scot­land’s in­ter­na­tion­ally im­por­tant pro­tected ar­eas will be pro­tected in name only, as projects to main­tain and man­age them will lack fund­ing.

“With­out what we are push­ing for, we will lose the best tools we have to pro­tect our en­vi­ron­ment – and this at a crit­i­cal mo­ment in terms of cli­mate change and loss of wildlife.”

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: “Ac­cess to EU fund­ing has for many years played an im­por­tant role in sup­port­ing our con­ser­va­tion ef­forts. It is es­sen­tial the UK Gov­ern­ment makes clear how such fund­ing streams will be main­tained in the long term if the UK leaves the EU.”

„ Scot­land’s red squir­rels could be in dan­ger when Bri­tain leaves the EU.

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