NATURE is in crisis – but despite the challenges ahead, it will have a key role to play in tackling climate change.

Francesca Osowska, Chief Executive of NatureScot, the pioneering public body responsible for Scotland’s natural heritage, believes a ‘nature-rich’ future is vital.

“With COP26 and COP15, a major conference on biodiversity which is happening in China in October, both on the horizon, this is a great opportunity to really stress the links between climate and nature,” she explained.

“The two are intrinsically linked. Nature has a fundamental role to play in taking carbon out of the atmosphere, adapting to climate change and reducing the risks of flood, drought and loss of wildlife.

“We have to treat nature and climate together, or we will not be able to address either.”

Recent research, led by The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that nature-based solutions can provide up to 37% of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep global temperature increases under 2°C – 30% more than previously estimated.

Ms Osowska added: “That could be through the creating a carbon sink, or by changing the way we travel. There are large-scale solutions, such as peatland restoration and woodland creation, and there are small-scale ones – we are supporting countless community projects, for example, working to help reverse biodiversity loss and tackle climate change.

“These projects are hugely inspiring – from volunteers tackling invasive species along local rivers to community[1]led initiatives planting for pollinators – they are making a real difference to help nature and give us all hope for the future.”

One of the biggest success stories is the Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF), co-funded by NatureScot and the Scottish Government. “This was hugely oversubscribed, which was a nice problem to have,” said Ms Osowska, smiling. “Communities have really responded to the challenge, and it is encouraging to see the way nature is becoming part of the narrative.

“The pandemic and lockdown helped to boost people’s appreciation of the nature on their doorsteps – more of us realised nature is not something that only exists out there in the hills, or in remote, far away places, but it is all around us, including in urban “settings.” Since 2019, a total of £6.6m has been awarded through the BCF to innovative projects that improve biodiversity and address the impact of climate change by increasing the resilience of at-risk habitats and species. Initiatives which received funding include the Edinburgh Shore Line Project, a community-centred partnership restoring habitats and creating artificial ones suitable for rocky shore invertebrates on sea defences; Seven Lochs Wetlands Park, which combines habitat creation and enhancement at 18 sites in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire with the development of a skilled team of staff and volunteers able to manage these habitats for the future; and Central Scotland B-Lines – a network of insect pathways within East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Edinburgh and South Lanarkshire.

This project has enhanced and created 47 sites across the local authority areas, providing flower rich habitat for pollinating insects and other wildlife. Local community groups, schools and volunteers are being engaged with the project to encourage ownership of greenspaces and improve wellbeing. NatureScot is keen to develop its relationship with young people, as Ms Osowska explains.

“We are only custodians of the planet, it is our job to hand it on to young people, who are anxious and agitating for change,” she said. “We worked on a successful outdoor nature project, providing a toolkit aimed at giving teachers the confidence to use outdoor settings as learning environments – and again, we are not talking about remote hills or lengthy field trips, it could be the park just five minutes’ down the road.

“It has been well-received and we are very proud of it. We have had feedback from teachers who report it is connecting with young people who, for whatever reason, do not engage in indoor classrooms.”

NatureScot has also worked with Young Scot on establishing ReRoute, Scotland’s Youth Biodiversity Panel which aims to give young people a voice in issues surrounding nature and the outdoors. “The young people led a great piece of work and their reports provided us with a set of actions to take forward in ReRoute 2,” said Ms Osowska.

“It was fantastic and we learned a lot about how we engage with young people.” Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow this November, Ms Oswoska says there is “absolutely a sense of optimism.” “This is going to be a pivotal conference,” she said. “It presents us with a huge opportunity in Scotland to address the many challenges and pressures nature is facing.

“Nature is not remote from the human species, we are part of it, and we need to change, restore and revive it. “That is essential, for the food we eat, the air we breathe and, ultimately, our own long-term survival.”