The natural world is under threat like never before

By Lang Banks, WWF Scotland

When was the last time you encountered a hedgehog? Or spotted a murmuration of starlings in a pink sky? The natural world as we once knew it is under threat like never before as the latest global science shows.

Today, the publication of WWF’s flagship Living Planet Report reveals that life is being squeezed out of our planet at an alarming rate.  This biannual health check on the state of our natural world shows that population sizes of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish all over the world are declining – averaging a 69% reduction over the past half century.   A major driver of this is how we grow our food globally and at home.  A switch to sustainable agriculture and food production is urgently needed to cut emissions and secure food for everyone.  

Scotland itself is no exception to this decline in nature, with 2019 research showing 1 in 9 species at risk of extinction.  We still have time to turn things around, but the clock is getting closer to midnight, and we need rapid, bold action from political and business leaders.

In stark contrast, recent weeks have seen worrying moves by the UK Government, threatening to break promises to protect nature and support green farming. That’s why it’s more important than ever that the Scottish Government takes action to make Scotland a world leader by introducing key policies that work for climate, nature, and people. We know the public support policies that deliver a healthier environment, more nature, and lower emissions.

As mentioned, one area that needs urgent attention is the way we now produce our food, which has a profound impact on nature and the climate, from farm to fork to landfill.  Almost a fifth of Scotland’s emissions come from farming, and agriculture is Scotland’s biggest emitter of methane and nitrous oxide – largely from livestock, how soils are managed and the chemicals that are used. While some farmers have made changes to their practices, action to reduce these emissions is still nowhere near where it needs to be.

We want to see farmers, crofters, and land managers supported to do things differently and to scale up action that’s helping to reduce emissions and protect nature. That’s why we’re asking people to support our Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign aimed at improving the way farming is funded.  The Scottish Government spends over £600 million a year supporting farmers and crofters, but this comes with few strings attached, often benefits the most profitable and intensely farmed areas, and can cause damage to nature and the environment. To stay on track to reach net zero, we need to transform rural policy, and farming subsidies will play a key role in shaping what that looks like.

Scotland has a major opportunity to change the way we support farmers and crofters so that they can continue to produce food, while restoring nature and fighting climate change.

The consequences of failure to act will leave an unbearable burden on future generations who will, quite rightly, not forgive or forget.

This article was first published in the Herald on 13 October 2022.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of all the organisations backing the Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign.