17 January 2013

S4M-05320 Biodiversity

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05320, in the name of Rob Gibson, on biodiversity. I call Rob Gibson to speak to and move the motion on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s behalf.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Let me add my congratulations to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee on securing time for this timely debate.

Among the briefings that are available to us as MSPs is the “UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework”, published for the four countries biodiversity group—a group that represents Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The introduction to the framework talks about moving

“away from a piecemeal approach dealing with different aspects of biodiversity and the environment separately, towards a new focus on managing the environment as a whole, with the true economic and societal value of nature properly acknowledged and taken into account in decision-making”.

That is a pretty good starting place.

We also have probably the most comprehensive land use strategy anywhere in the world. It was published in 2011 and is called “Getting the best from our land”—which is what it is about.

Of course, strategies are all very well, but they are not worth a great deal until they move into becoming plans, which are lists of actions to take place, and plans in their own way are of no value until they devolve into actual work on the ground.

National plans are important—they set the context—but at the end of the day it is individuals and local groups that can pick up and respond to the challenges right now. They do not need to wait. Such groups do not need to try to solve every problem. Perhaps at national level we can look at the gaps that local activity is leaving and seek to fill them, but we should encourage individuals and local groups to take action.

We can look around and see need, and we can see opportunity and advantage in addressing the issues on a micro scale. The macro-scale strategy is something else altogether, but it will succeed if a sufficient amount of local, micro action takes place.

A range of members have spoken about specific opportunities and challenges. In particular, Jayne Baxter spoke of the importance of local ownership of action, and I absolutely agree.

When I get up in the morning, I do so in a rural area. There are probably about seven houses within a mile. The weather can travel seasonally from the -21°C that it was in winter 2009 to the nearly 40°C that it was in high summer last year. That is a range of nearly 60°C, which is quite unexpected in Scotland, which is generally thought of as having a relatively mild climate.

Where I stay, I am surrounded on three sides by a monoculture of poorly and densely planted firs—I am not an arborist, but I think that I can say that without much challenge. That forest has a significant negative influence on local biodiversity. We have roe deer, badgers, foxes and weasels that live in and off the environment that is created, but if we look at the ground beneath the trees we see that the forest canopy has left it all but sterile. Nothing grows there, not even an effective mulch that returns what comes off the trees to the ground.

With that forest perhaps overdue for felling and therefore likely soon to leave us open to the elements in our hilltop location, over the past 10 years my wife and I have looked at a mitigation plan that is relevant to us. We have planted a hedge and about 50 trees, and in doing that we have focused on supporting biodiversity and bug life in particular.

I am absolutely delighted that the diversity in our new hedge, the blossom on our trees and our garden plants have clearly increased local insect biodiversity. I am especially pleased to see and hear a substantial increase in bumblebees in particular. I am not very good at identifying different species—I have managed to track down a decent book that has photographs, although I still find it very difficult—but I am quite certain that I have two species and may have three. There is nothing better than going out to look at the bees feeding on the flowers, covered in pollen and moving to other plants.

We are fortunate that we are not in an area where there is a great degree of agriculture; it is mostly beasts and sheep near us, so we are not particularly exposed to the adverse effects of neonicotinoids and other things that might be used.

Insects are at the bottom of the food chain, but they therefore make a very important contribution to a wide range of other species. I do not know whether the appearance in the past four years, for the first time since we have been there, of golden eagles for a few weeks each year is part of that evolving local ecosystem, but I very much welcome and enjoy it. The next thing that I am going to have a look at is the Reidside Moss that is visibly drying out, which is 1,000m away.

I had a wildlife camera given to me as my Christmas present. My wife is getting a bit peed off that I have not yet managed to get it working or to try it out in the forest. I very much look forward to doing that. If we all get engaged with the wildlife around us, we can all identify ways in which we can help.

There was an engineer in the 1930s who said that if we had to measure an improvement, we probably had not made one. We are now in a position in which incremental change ain’t gonna be good enough. We need step change that we can see, which we do not have to measure.


Stewart Stevenson
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