Brexit threatens to wipe out Scotland’s rarest creatures
Charities warn new laws and funding needed to protect conservation work
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.