By Dougie Peedie

THE Scottish Government’s economic recovery plan published last week initially gives you a feeling of déjà vu – another long government report including many announcements that we have seen before. There remains a widening gap between high-level rhetoric and delivery on the ground. However, there are a number of statements which suggest the government is beginning to give the necessary prominence to the role that investment in our natural environment can play in addressing the climate, nature and economic crises.

In accepting the recommendations of its own Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, the Scottish Government is taking a new “four capitals” approach which involves viewing the economy through four pillars of economic, natural, human and social capital. Just as importantly, it is accepting the advice of the group “to treat each pillar as equally important”.

Government recognises that improving our wellbeing is dependent on our ability to conserve and grow our natural assets. It also appears to have accepted the radical advice of the Scottish Infrastructure Commission that the next Infrastructure Investment Plan should have natural infrastructure as a key component.

In other aspects the plan lacks urgency and clear time commitments. Much of the detail seems to have been left to the update of the Climate Change Plan and the Infrastructure Investment Plan. Sadly, a clear timetable is also lacking and all we are told is that there will be “regular” updates to the plan.

There is welcome acknowledgement that investing in our natural environment, nature-based solutions and green skills are vital to address the twin climate and biodiversity crises. Nonetheless, to be genuinely transformational government will need to go further than existing commendable commitments to peatland restoration and vague pledges of “woodland expansion”.

Government must ensure that we also maintain our peatland in good condition, prevent further damaging extraction and horticultural use and invest in native woodland. Nature-based solutions must also go further and include investment in greening our cities and enhancing the marine environment.

With the Scottish Budget already under significant pressure, providing the necessary funding for nature-based solutions is going to be even more of a challenge. This cannot, however, be an excuse for further delay. Investment in our natural assets must get a fair share of the £2bn earmarked for infrastructure plans. We also need to consider how to make better use of existing funding and instruments like the infrastructure levy. The UK Committee on Climate Change has advised that we must also consider changes in tax policy. The Scottish National Investment Bank also has a key role to play.

One low cost and high impact measure that could unlock a whole range of new conservation opportunities would be for the next Scottish Budget to kick start a new Conservation Finance Fund with initial public seed investment to help lever in private finance. This would build on the collaborative work led by SEPA and the Scottish Wildlife Trust on the “Route Map to £1 Billion’.

If the necessary public and private funding is forthcoming, then the Scottish Government’s proposed partnership approach and the desire to involve communities much more in decision making is also key to success. However, we must ensure that communities and NGOs are engaged on an equal footing with business. We look forward to working with government to make this a truly green and transformational recovery that enhances all aspects of our wellbeing.

Dougie Peedle is Head of Policy, Scottish Wildlife Trust