15 January 2020

S5M-20295 World Wetlands Day 2020

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20295, in the name of John Finnie, on celebrating Scotland’s wetlands on world wetlands day 2020. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates World Wetlands Day on 2 February 2020; believes that Scotland’s wetlands are sites of important biodiversity, providing a habitat that is a unique home for a wide array of species of birds, fish, mammals and invertebrates, and provide vital hunting grounds for many other predator species; notes that these sites across Scotland are designated for their protection under the Ramsar Convention; understands that Scotland’s wetlands produce significant benefits to the overall environment and provide vital flood control and water filtration; believes that the climate emergency and continued development on these sites pose an existential threat to the future of Scotland’s wetlands and the species that call them home, and welcomes calls on the Scottish Government encouraging it to support continued and greater protection for Scotland’s wetlands.

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

I congratulate John Finnie on bringing this subject to the chamber.

In my constituency, we have a wetland that is recognised in the Ramsar convention of wetlands. I am proud to represent the Loch of Strathbeg, which is a shallow, nutrient-rich loch and the largest dune slack pool in Britain. It is a rich habitat for flora and fauna, with reed beds, freshwater marshes and much more besides. Most importantly, it is a wintering habitat for many wetland bird species, including geese, the whooper swan and other varieties of waterfowl.

Wetlands are, of course, among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet and our most productive ecosystems. In the United Kingdom, they make up 3 percent of our land cover and 10 percent of our total biodiversity. They create resilience in a changing environment—that is why they are critical. Their benefits include acting as nature’s shock absorbers in the face of extreme weather. They store rain during storms, reduce flooding, and delay the onset of droughts. That may be obvious, but I will talk about it a little more.

We have already heard a little bit about Australia. We should think about California. Over the past decade, both have faced years of droughts, which have been punctuated—particularly at the moment—by tragic wildfires. That is happening even as we speak. It is telling that it has been estimated that California has lost 90 percent of its wetlands over the past century. In Australia, the figure is similar.

That raises the question of what role the presence of those lost wetlands would have played in the tragic situation that we see playing out. Perhaps there would have been better storage of rain during storms rather than water being lost to evaporation. Perhaps the onset of drought would have been delayed. I accept that the destruction of wetlands is far from being the sole contributor to those tragedies, but it is one of a range of factors.

Destroying wetlands has consequences, and we must accept that those consequences are not yet fully realised. It is critical that we ensure that we reverse the destruction that we can reverse.

I have certainly visited peatland that has been rewetted, and I have been astonished to see how quickly some parts of its diversity have come back. Not necessarily all of it came back, but certainly, a great deal of it did.

On the global issue of the destruction of wetlands, we have to think big. We think that as much as 64 percent of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since 1900. It is significant—John Finnie referred to this—that they are immense carbon sinks. The issue is therefore highly relevant to the climate emergency and, of course, to creating the circumstances in which dry land promotes fires and allows them to continue. We cannot continue with that approach.

This debate will make its small contribution to all of us recognising the importance of restoring wetlands, and I hope that it will lead the way for others to challenge themselves on wetlands in other countries. Crucially, humanity’s collective ignorance of wetlands is the greater challenge. We are engaged in the subject, but most of our population is not. We must overcome that ignorance, and persuade our friends and colleagues and people across Scotland and the world that it is now time to act on the subject of wetlands.


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