Investing in Our Countryside

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Stuart Housden's blog

Director of RSPB Scotland. Blogging on conservation topics & many of our projects.There will be an emphasis on Scotland,but the rest of the UK & work with BirdLife International will get mentions too.You can also follow me on Twitter @StuartHousden

Investing in Our Countryside

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Wildlife across Scotland continues to change, with serious long term declines now evident. So how do we have a greater positive impact on the fortunes of our species at a time when less government support is available? Protected areas for example have been essential to target corncrake recovery and blanket bog restoration in Scotland, but they’re not enough on their own to prevent wildlife declines. What’s more, other policies, like the CAP and CFP, continue to work in opposition to conservation measures, and the market pressures on food producers don’t yet value conservation so what’s the solution? These are some of the issues that were up for discussion at the ‘Investing in Our Countryside’ dinner, which we co-hosted with lawyers Turcan Connell on the 31st May.

The event was part of Green Week - the biggest annual conference on European environmental policy, which this year took place from 30th May to 3rd June. Focusing on the theme ‘Investing for a greener future’, this year the conference aimed to contribute to answering the broader question of how to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe. Each day of the week focused on a different aspect of the main theme and member states were encouraged to hold satellite events, such as our dinner. 

Nicholas Hanley, Director of DG Environment's Directorate for Global and Regional Challenges

The evening was kicked off with the above address from Nicholas Hanley, Director of DG Environment's Directorate for Global and Regional Challenges, which was recorded in advance of the event. As Mr Hanley states, “...declining budgets have taken their toll on biodiversity” and “ will cost a lot to replace natural systems with artificial solutions, therefore investing in our natural capital is not a cost, but saving cost – a true investment in a sustainable future.” I echo this and also agree that “...well managed protected areas deliver benefits for both wildlife and people.” It’s refreshing to have a European Commission representative stand up for the Natura 2000 network at a time when the directives behind them are in grave danger of being watered down, despite strong public and political support, including most recently from David Cameron.

Though we are not telling anyone how to vote in the EU referendum, and understand people will decide based on multiple issues, the RSPB believes wildlife is safer in Europe wheere concerted action can address the needs of nature across the continent. But, whatever the outcome on the 23rd June, it is clear more investment is needed in the Scottish countryside. Over 60% of species have declined in the past 50 years. Nature matters, for its own intrinsic value and the ecosystem services it provides, but without conscious investment nature is likely to be further degraded, as ‘efficiencies’ drive more specialisation  and intensification of land use.

We recognise that public finances are tight. So, the Scottish Government needs to be smarter in how public funds are used – more joined up, better targeted and focused on delivering real outcomes, such as those outlined in the Biodiversity Route Map to 2020. It’s apparent that there is also an underinvestment in education, training and advice, which would help to better equip those who work the land and manage the countryside with better knowledge and skills to do so in beneficial ways.

The private sector could deliver a good deal more, too. There is great potential for Scottish businesses to trade on the basis of a clean and green image, but this must be based on substance. And we need to make it more attractive for the private sector to invest in nature, too.

These are the views of RSPB Scotland of course, but as details were discussed and debated around the dinner table, spurred on by some fervent speakers, one thing became clear; we need the public to be alerted to the dangers and invest more effort in telling politicians they care. The first in a set of globally agreed targets for biodiversity – the Aichi targets –- states that ’by 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.’ We all need to work harder to achieve this.

‘The countryside’ is often thought of as somewhere people visit for recreation and this idea of the environment and nature being separate from us first and foremost needs to change. There was a strong consensus around the table that, from childhood, people need to be reconnected with the land and wildlife around them. Children must be given the necessary experience to understand what nature Scotland must care for. People must be connected with nature to care.  

It was also suggested that we need to mainstream a sense of concern and care for nature throughout society, in a similar way that the Climate Change movement has done. The media can help us do this, but people can feel powerless when they hear lots of doomsday stories. Similarly, it was pointed out that it’s not just the media that can be overly negative. Stakeholders, including ourselves, can all be guilty of starting from a place of discord when trying to work out new policies. And so maybe we all need to have a more positive stance, give hope, lead by example and so move forward by first seeking areas of agreement rather than dispute?



  • A good blog. I quite agree we need to find ways of making politicians and people in general much more aware that nature matters to them and that without it in the end life generally will not exist.

    There are many aspects to nature, such as birds, mammals, plants, butterflies and so on. Very often these interested groups work in isolation with little reference to each other. We have to try to bring these groups together much more so they are working much more with a single purpose and that is to reverse biodiversity loss and help nature generally. It can and must be done, with a step at a time.

    A positive stance is most important. Just take a look at what the RSPB and other conservation organisations have achieved already. Sorry to say, while the media can sometimes make a positive contribution they are, on the whole, the "gloom and doom brigade", thriving on sensation and bad news, So we must not be brainwashed by them into a negative approach. Saving species and biodiversity can be done with a positive approach and all working together.