The Herald

Root out environmen­tal threats to preserve this land of plenty

Agencies and individual­s are taking action to safeguard Scotland's biodiversi­ty, discovers

- Ann Wallace

IIS undoubtedl­y because she is a retired teacher, laughs environmen­tal activist Maureen Potter, that she believes education is key when it comes to biodiversi­ty. “Langlands Moss is a peat bog, and for us, protecting the peat will always be the priority because it is an essential carbon store,” she explains, referring to the 8000-year-old lowland raised peat bog on the outskirts of East Kilbride which she and fellow campaigner­s have transforme­d into an important local nature hub.

“However, I did always see the place as something else, too – somewhere that schoolchil­dren, and youth groups and Scouts and Brownies and so on, could come and learn about local habitats and wildlife. It makes much more sense to teach people about biodiversi­ty where it’s all around you, and you can see it in action, rather than in a classroom.”

Scotland’s nature agency,

Naturescot, has outlined several key challenges facing biodiversi­ty in Scotland, from the changing ways humans use the sea and the land – the way we farm, the way we build towns and cities; how we exploit animals and plants for food and materials; climate change; pollution and invasive non-native species.

Its research reveals Scotland has already lost nearly 25 per cent of its wildlife, with birds, butterflie­s, mammals and moths showing an overall decline of 31 per cent since 1994. Pressures on the marine environmen­t – for example, through over-fishing – have also had a negative impact on biodiversi­ty.

The Scottish Government has initiated a blue carbon research programme to investigat­e the role Scotland’s seas have in trapping and storing carbon dioxide.

Scottish marine stores of carbon, held in species such as seagrass meadows, kelp forests, reefs and intertidal saltmarshe­s, are greater than those held by all land habitats, including peatlands.

A range of agencies are looking into this – Scottish Wildlife Trust, for example, is working, with partners, to understand how the carbon processes work and how threats such as trawling, coastal erosion and climate change affect carbon storage. Environmen­tal charity Keep Scotland Beautiful (KSB) has estimated that up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic gets into the sea each year, which is killing wildlife, threatenin­g ecosystems and habitats, and is extremely difficult and expensive to clean up.

In a bid to tackle the problem, KSB’S Upstream Battle initiative focuses on changing littering behaviour to prevent marine litter at source along two rivers, the River Clyde and River Tay.

Pollution, in the form of everything from micro-plastics in the ocean to ammonia caused by intense agricultur­e, has had a far-reaching effect on biodiversi­ty.

In December 2020, Plantlife Scotland issued a hardhittin­g report which claimed the country’s rare temperate rainforest­s, peatlands, species-rich grasslands and even mountain tops have nitrogen levels higher than they can tolerate.

The organisati­on’s research, commission­ed by the Scottish Government and backed by WWF Scotland, the Soil Associatio­n, the Woodland Trust and others, suggested just under half of wood habitats, and a quarter of open habitats within Scotland’s Important Plant Areas have exceeded their critical load – the point at which nitrogen harms habitats, causing a rapid decrease in plant, lichen and fungi diversity.

On the release of the report, Alistair Whyte, Head of Plantlife Scotland, said: “The effects of air pollution on health are well documented with industry traditiona­lly the key culprit. But nitrogen deposition is also rapidly devastatin­g our iconic habitats and the impacts of this invisible enemy are still not being recognised with sufficient urgency. Alarmingly, we are now finding that habitats perceived to be furthest away from the source of air pollution such as the unique rainforest­s of the west coast, are on the borderline of reaching their nitrogen thresholds from far-reaching emissions.”

In addition to wide-ranging, national approaches to tackling biodiversi­ty loss, there is scope for great strides to be made at a regional or local level.

Volunteeri­ng, for example through Naturescot’s invasive plant control work days, which tackle species such as giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and American mink in a bid to prevent native species from dying out; or TCV Scotland’s Citizen Science surveys, can be a useful and meaningful way to help the environmen­t. Nearly 90 per cent of all the species and habitat records collected in the UK come from Citizen Scientists.

One of the biggest threats to biodiversi­ty in Scotland is climate change, which as well as directly causing some species to die out and others to move because of changes in weather patterns, is also indirectly making other challenges worse.

Nature can provide a solution, however – restoring peatlands is one of the most effective ways of locking in carbon, preventing biodiversi­ty loss and aiding Scotland’s “green recovery”.

Peatland Action is helping to revive damaged peatlands across the country – since 2012, more than 25,000 hectares have been restored. In February 2020, the Scottish Government announced a £250 million investment in peatland restoratio­n over the next 10 years.

The volunteer-run group, of which Maureen – recently named Scotswoman of the Year – has been a driving force for 16 years,takes a progressiv­e approach to conservati­on, essentiall­y allowing nature to take care of itself.

“We’re doing a lot of work at the moment on creating habitats which attract pollinator­s – we have planted wildflower­s for bees and butterflie­s, and hedges which are flower and fruit-bearing which help feed birds in the winter months,” Maureen explains.

“There are still many challenges facing biodiversi­ty in Scotland, but there is a lot of good work being done, and a lot of hope. When we first started at Langlands, it was the only Local Nature Reserve in South Lanarkshir­e. Now there are more than 20, all helping local people understand, and take care of, the nature on their doorsteps.”

 ?? ?? Main image: activist and ex- teacher, Maureen Potter, who was recently named Scotswoman of the Year, has been a member of the Peatland Action group for 16 years
Main image: activist and ex- teacher, Maureen Potter, who was recently named Scotswoman of the Year, has been a member of the Peatland Action group for 16 years
 ?? ?? Alastair Whyte, Head of Plantlife Scotland
Alastair Whyte, Head of Plantlife Scotland

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