27 May 2014

S4M-09777 Scottish Wildlife Trust (50th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-09777, in the name of John Wilson, on the 50th anniversary of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Scottish Wildlife Trust on celebrating its 50th anniversary; thanks the trust’s current and former volunteers and staff for their contribution toward protecting, restoring and enhancing the country’s wildlife and habitats and for inspiring people to engage with nature; understands that the trust is involved in many conservation activities, which include managing its network of 120 wildlife reserves, policy work that aims to influence decision makers to take biodiversity into account when developing plans and policies, natural capital work that tries to encourage businesses to lessen their impacts on the natural world, and work that seeks to inspire people of all ages through education, events, visitor centres and a Scotland-wide network of wildlife watch groups for children; notes what it sees as the important role that the trust has played in the Scottish Beaver Trial and the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrel project; considers that it has been innovative in developing a landscape-scale approach to conservation through its living landscape projects in Coigach–Assynt, Cumbernauld and Edinburgh, and applauds the Scottish Wildlife Trust on its continued hard work and its commitment to protecting the wildlife of Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): As other members have done, I thank John Wilson for providing us with the opportunity to have this debate, which is—of course—about thanking the Scottish Wildlife Trust for the work that it has done over the past 50 years. I am sure that the current Minister for Environment and Climate Change will value—as I did, as a minister—the sage words that come from many of the forums that ministers find themselves chairing. I always found it useful to listen to what was being said.

One of the core things that the Scottish Wildlife Trust promotes is ecological diversity. When he was in office, my predecessor Mike Russell—our first Scottish National Party environment minister—introduced the beavers at Knapdale. As a minister, I visited the beavers, and was it not impressive? Those little chappies had done a huge job. The dam was twice my height and more than an acre of forest had disappeared under the loch that was thus formed. The evidence of the beavers chewing the trees could be seen all around. More fundamentally, the biological diversity that came from that reintroduction was substantial. The effect of that tiny number of beavers was quite large, which illustrates the need for care, monitoring and looking after the effects in the long term. It is grossly irresponsible to release new animals without supervision and management.

In this country, as in many other countries, we have experienced introductions that are not down to nature—starting, perhaps, with the brown hare. There has been a long debate about whether the Normans brought it here. However, an archaeological dig in Essex has found that the Romans brought it, so that is thought to have resolved the debate. The brown hare has, therefore, been here a couple of thousand years. The Romans brought the rabbits, too, though I wish that they hadnae, because they chew things in my garden that I would prefer they did not chew. On the other hand, the existence of the rabbit means that the buzzards are doing incredibly well; they are having a very good season. A month ago, they were still flying around with twigs in their beaks, building this year’s nests. They are now avidly hunting the rabbits, and I hope that they continue to do so.

Some introductions are hugely damaging. One such example is the American signal crayfish, which—to be blunt—we do not know how to get rid of. It is possible to get rid of such things, though. We seem to be on the verge of getting rid of the mink from the Western Isles. We know that the Australians managed to eliminate the rabbit in 1973, so it can be done. However, Australia still has the dingo, which is a dog that was introduced to the continent.

The grey squirrel came here from North America and continues to threaten the red squirrel. In the north-east of Scotland, Steve Willis of the SWT is the saving Scotland’s red squirrel project officer. We are making some progress there, and we are isolated from the main body of grey squirrels, which is helpful. I worry about some of the squirrels, though. I was driving up a country road last year and a grey squirrel was standing in the middle of the road. It would not move and I had to stop and wait for it to get off the road.

Nigel Don referred to ospreys. In 1971, the Loch Garten reserve saw the arrival of the first ospreys in Scotland. Since then, they have moved further south and are now breeding in Rutland. If we make a start, we can do well.

The SWT has made a huge contribution to biological and ecological diversity and is of significant importance for the climate change agenda. Its tentacles spread wide. Let us hope that they continue to do so.


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