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ARIANE BURGESS: Scotland's hills, mountains, and coastlines are 'seriously depleted of life'

By Scott Maclennan

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Ariane Burgess says Scotland's hills, mountains, and coastlines are 'seriously depleted of life'.
Ariane Burgess says Scotland's hills, mountains, and coastlines are 'seriously depleted of life'.

Scotland's landscapes are often called iconic: rolling hills, dramatic mountains, and rugged coastlines. But beneath this apparent beauty lies a harsh reality—our natural world is in a degraded state. You may find it surprising to know that Scotland is ranked low at 212 out of 240 countries in terms of the intactness of its biodiversity.

Those rolling hills, dramatic mountains, and rugged coastlines are seriously depleted of life. Centuries of land management practices have taken their toll, leading to a decline in wildlife and diverse natural habitats. This has led to a severely diminished landscape, which also weakens our ability to tackle the very real threat of climate change.

The good news is that Scotland is on a journey to turn this situation around by restoring nature. The most recent step is the Wildlife Management and Muirburn bill, which was recently passed by the Scottish Parliament. It recognises that working with nature, not against it, is the key to a healthier environment and a more resilient Scotland.

The new law seeks to address critical issues. One of its primary provisions is to end the barbaric practice of killing golden eagles and other birds of prey. Snares, cruel traps that inflict immense suffering on unsuspecting animals, will be banned. Additionally, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) will gain new investigatory powers, ensuring better enforcement of animal welfare laws.

Another change concerns land management practices. Land managers who want to burn vegetation on hills and mountains, known as muirburn, will now require a year-round license and will not be able to make muirburn on peat deeper than 40cm, although I would like the government to keep this in review as burning any depth of peat should be of concern.

Peatland is a vital part of our climate change equation. Through peatland restoration, carbon is locked away, preventing it from entering the atmosphere and accelerating climate change. However, degraded or damaged peatland releases its stored carbon, worsening the problem.

Often referred to as "Scotland's rainforest," healthy peatland stores vast amounts of carbon. According to Nature Scot in their Peatland Action report - restoring an area of bare peat the size of Glasgow’s George Square would save 19 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, which is the same as the emissions produced by 226 car journeys between Edinburgh and John O’Groats.

The new legislation plays a crucial role in peatland restoration. By regulating muirburn and promoting sustainable land management, we can allow these natural carbon sinks to recover their full potential. Imagine the positive impact on our environment if Scotland's peatlands were restored to their full health. We could significantly enhance our fight against climate change while also restoring our landscapes to thriving vital ecosystems.

This legislation is a major step forward, but it's only part of the work needed to restore nature. Continued efforts are needed to educate landowners on sustainable land management practices and to provide the necessary resources for peatland restoration projects. By working together, we can ensure that Scotland's land becomes part of the climate solution, not part of the problem.

Let's celebrate this progress and use it as a springboard. With a renewed commitment to working with nature, we can create a healthier, more resilient Scotland – a land where iconic wildlife thrives, peatlands flourish, and our natural world is supported to play its vital role in securing a brighter future for generations to come.

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