NatureScot recently published our report “Understanding the Indirect Drivers of Biodiversity Loss in Scotland”. In 32 years in ecology, it’s been one of the hardest technical reports I’ve written. It’s also a hard read in terms of the scale of the challenge when it comes to stopping nature loss.

As context, the State of Nature Scotland report 2019 showed that 49% of Scottish species had decreased. Of 8,431 species assessed, 15% were listed as at risk of extinction, from Arctic skuas to Scottish wildcats.

There’s little reason to believe this has improved. But we do now have a better understanding of what we can do about it.

Building on a global assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, we looked at what we do as a society that underlies the causes of biodiversity loss.

The challenge is that there’s no single simple solution to addressing those underlying causes; they touch on almost every aspect of how we live, work and organise society today.

The solutions also mean we need to work together, across government, individuals, public bodies, communities, businesses and local government.

But we have an opportunity. By working together and by mainstreaming biodiversity into policy through considering these indirect causes of biodiversity loss, Scotland could go from being nature-depleted to setting a global example.

While there are many recommendations in our report, I’ve distilled seven that hopefully give a sense of the direction we should take.

One, decision-making at all levels, from the individual to the state, should be forward-looking and compatible with long-term sustainability. Wales’s Well-being of Future Generations Act is a potential option.

Two, as a comparatively wealthy country, economic decision-making should be based on broader sustainability. Taxation could move towards resource use rather than income.

Three, recognise where our food comes from. Grains and pulses fed to livestock may produce cheap meat, but as these could be fed direct to humans, they are ecologically inefficient; the extra land could support biodiversity restoration.

Four, connect adults and children to nature through more green and blue spaces in urban areas and include sustainability across STEM and geography in schools.

Five, reduce imports with poor sustainability records and moving to a zero-waste society will reduce Scotland’s global biodiversity footprint.

Six, restoring habitats (for example, replacing plantation forestry with native woodland) potentially exports impacts, so land and marine management decisions should take in both local and global biodiversity impacts.

Seven, difficult decisions will need to be made as to which habitats to prioritise and whether priority should be given to carbon sequestration or onshoring food and timber production to prevent biodiversity loss overseas or improving local biodiversity.

Reversing biodiversity loss and even restoring biodiversity isn’t just about saving species, like the Scottish wildcat. Biodiversity plays a hugely important role in the ecosystems that support the food, resources and natural systems that we rely on for our leisure and sense of wellbeing. We should be protecting it. Thankfully, there are many ways we can.  

Robin Pakeman is senior ecologist, The James Hutton Institute