Scottish Parliament fails to declare a Nature Emergency

Kirsty Nutt

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Eroded peat bog on Holme Moss with heather moors in background, South Pennines, England,

Despite a wide-ranging debate showing the Scottish Parliament’s increasing concern for nature, it misses a vital opportunity to declare a Nature Emergency.

RSPB Scotland has described the outcome of this afternoon’s vote of the Scottish Parliament, as a ‘missed opportunity’ to declare a nature emergency in Scotland, given all the evidence that nature is facing a major collapse.

Today, MSPs in the Scottish Parliament decided to pass a motion, which noted the catastrophic collapse in biodiversity globally and in Scotland, but stopped short of declaring a nature emergency as was originally tabled by Mark Ruskell MSP, as the Scottish Government decided to remove reference to the nature emergency from the motion [1].  

RSPB Scotland says that it is extremely concerning, given the scale and urgency of the nature emergency, that Scotland’s political parties failed to come together and reach agreement on this critical issue.

Aedán Smith, Head of Policy and Advocacy at RSPB Scotland, said: “Many people have turned to nature during this difficult year, whilst for others a lack of access to nature has made the challenges of COVID-19 even harder. We knew that nature was in trouble and needed our help long before this pandemic, but we also know that investing in nature’s recovery can tackle many other societal issues, such as creating long-term jobs, resilient, diverse economies and delivering improvements to quality of life, health and wellbeing.”

“It is disappointing that the Scottish Parliament missed this opportunity to declare a nature emergency and provide the momentum needed for urgent action to restore Scotland’s amazing nature. As a starting point, we hope that the parties can now come together to urgently agree ambitious nature recovery targets and create a clear, well-funded and robust plan of action for addressing the nature emergency.”

In 2019 a UN report found that nature is declining at an unprecedented rate across the world [2]. Here in Scotland, the 2019 State of Nature Report found that 49% of species have declined and 1 in 9 species is at risk from extinction [3]. The loss of nature is driven predominantly by: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution; and invasive non-native species.

Last year the First Minister declared a Climate Emergency, which kickstarted cross-sector action for the climate. The motion that was debated today recognised that nature is also in a state of emergency, posing serious risks to the future of our planet, societies and economies.

It was hoped that the Scottish Parliament would vote to pass this to recognise that the climate and nature crises are of equal importance and deeply interlinked, promoting much more investment in a variety of areas that could provide win-win solutions for nature and climate.

After considerable debate, including positive interventions from across the political spectrum on major environmental issues ranging from salmon-farming to grouse shooting, consensus wasn’t reached on the principle of declaring a nature emergency. The Scottish Government decided to remove reference to the nature emergency from the motion, despite the First Minister stating last year that biodiversity loss is of equal importance to the climate emergency [5].

In order to address the nature crisis, RSPB Scotland, in coalition with Scottish Environment LINK, are calling for robust legally-binding nature recovery targets to halt the loss of nature by 2030 and ensure nature’s recovery by 2045 [6].

A clear road-map for nature’s recovery is also vital. RSPB Scotland, along with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and WWF Scotland, launched a Nature Recovery Plan in August which is designed to tackle the five direct drivers of biodiversity loss in Scotland [5]. The Plan sets out 11 actions that are crucial for nature’s recovery in Scotland from tackling wildlife crime, to securing more sustainable fisheries and expanding Scotland’s native woodlands.

Aedan Smith adds: “Given that there was strong agreement across the Scottish Parliament today that nature is in real trouble, we hope to see all of Scotland’s political parties championing these 11 actions in their manifestos for the Scottish Parliament elections next year.”


Notes to Editor:

[1] Motion lodged by Mark Ruskell MSP S5M-23383

Declaration of a Nature Emergency

That the Parliament notes with grave concern the catastrophic collapse in biodiversity globally and in Scotland, with one in nine species threatened with extinction from Scotland, and therefore declares a nature emergency; believes that restoring nature should be a central component of green economic recovery and future rural support, stimulating the economy and creating jobs; calls for urgent legislation to halt the loss of biodiversity and to enable nature to recover through a coherent national ecological network, including well-managed, protected sites in good condition comprising at least 30% of Scotland’s sea and land by 2030, a third of which should be fully protected; calls for an end to driven grouse moor management practices, large-scale peat extraction and damaging fishing practices in sensitive marine environments, and further calls on the Scottish Government to introduce a moratorium on salmon farm expansion until the concerns raised in the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee's 2018 report on salmon farming in Scotland are fully addressed.

[2] Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 2019, Global Assessment:

[3] State of Nature State of Nature 2019 Scotland report:

[4] FM letter to Scottish Environment LINK

[5] Putting Scotland on a Path to Recovery, Stuart Housden, 2020, A report for Scottish Environment LINK:  

[6] Nature Recovery Plan RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, WWF Scotland, 2020, Nature Recovery Plan:



Last Updated: Thursday 19 November 2020

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Topic: Conservation Topic: General Topic: Green issues