Fragrant Orchid

Often only the most un-tameable places appear to hold out as homes for nature. These are places where the plough can’t work, where timber won’t thrive, places too steep even for sheep to graze, and along salt-blasted shoreline. These places are too much effort to tame for our foresters and our farmers and their livestock, not worth trying to cultivate. 

It’s strange to think how nature would spread back out from these remaining refuges if we were all suddenly evacuated to another planet, leaving nature to its own devices. 

Sometimes it feels like we have got used to seeing the ‘left-overs’ of wildlife as the main meal. Do we even have enough nature left in these last scraps? 

Scotland’s vast, rugged uplands may look like we have plenty of nature left in the bank. But many of them are heavily manicured to provide shooting deer or grouse. It is many centuries ago since even these so-called wild lands last resembled the healthy ecosystems that we now need world-wide if climate recovery is to happen. 

We can’t keep pushing nature to its limits – but we have already gone far beyond that. Scotland is one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth. It’s difficult to grasp this emergency when we can still find nature in the places where it has been forced to hide-out; in a few parts of our ‘bonny countryside’. But when we start to rely on wild places elsewhere to help recover the world's climate engine, we are suddenly confronted with the question - ‘what have we lost locally?’.  

The UK is in the bottom 10% globally for Biodiversity Intactness Index and bottom of all G7 Nations.

So, what’s the solution? We can’t live apart from nature and we can’t keep squeezing it out, using all the space for ourselves. 

The priority is to allocate more land solely for nature to do its own thing as best it can. However, even this will need our management, because it will take land that we currently farm or that we use for timber and shooting. And nature recovery is difficult to create quickly at the scale that nature needs. But, unless we start this journey towards much more land for nature, we will never get there. 

‘More space for our nature’ is the one high-level, big-picture idea that we need to promote. If we believe that nature recovery is needed, we simply must accept that we need to get by with less land for farms, for timber and for shooting.  

It’s great that some farming ideas are already heading in that direction - Food system impacts on biodiversity loss | Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank– and that the main asks seem equally applicable across forestry and shooting too. 

And existing ‘protected areas’ for nature need to start meaning more of a ‘return to health’ than just ‘keeping the hopeless patient alive’. Don’t forget that only a fraction of protected areas are actually positively managed for nature.

So, comparing the total land area of Perth & Kinross, this is the difference between perhaps 2% ‘positively managed’ for nature and 17% designated as ‘protected areas’ for nature. When we then consider the Scottish Government’s current support for 30x30 (30% for nature by 2030), we see the scale of the changes in land-use that might be needed - and across only the next eight years!  

Of Perth & Kinross' 147 nature sites protected as SSSI:
  • 39% have all their features in favourable condition
  • 30% have none of their features in favourable condition
  • 50% have their features split equally between favourable and unfavourable condition.


These land-use changes affect us all; and we’ll get bombarded with issues like cost of food, personal freedom, food security, pest control, private property, right to roam, fragile rural communities, etc. But we can stack multiple benefits and spin-offs from nature expansion, including new enterprise opportunities, flood mitigation and more. Luckily for us, these are all things of our making – and therefore of our reshaping too. 

Please hold our land-use to account – make sure that it’s changing to create more space for nature. Ask for regular updates for your own area. Question how public land-management funds are delivering for local nature, among other outcomes. Support land-use to be as nature-positive as it can be. 

The Scottish Government Consultation on their new Biodiversity Strategy is open until 12th September. 

Our high-level commentary on the consultation is that substantial land needs re-allocated just to primarily our nature/climate restoration, regardless of the secondary contributions from current or improved practice for farming / forestry / shooting. The allocation of more land to our nature is the acid test of biodiversity commitment. It will require us to consider the necessary scale of economic and spatial transition. This is analogous to Holyrood’s setting of ambitious emissions targets several years ago, which clearly established a high-level framework for CHANGE. And we can take some heart (and learn some lessons too) from how the nation created a huge state forest, between the wars, from next to nothing. Nature now needs that level of commitment. ‘Better’ nature, contained within the space that nature is currently allowed, will simply not be enough to tackle the climate-and-biodiversity crisis 

Go straight to the SG consultation by clicking here. 

Red squirrel (c) Catherine Leatherland

Red squirrel © Catherine Leatherland