Time to put conservation at the heart of our thinking

Saturday September 30th 2023

Sycamore Gap tree at Hadrians Wall

The Sycamore Gap tree at Hadrian’s Wall which was unlawfully cut down this week. Photo by Andrew Masters.

This View has been written by Ross Laird, Convener of Midlothian, Tweeddale and Lauderdale Liberal Democrats

Following the publication of the State of Nature report 2023, I was reflecting on the national outrage being poured out about the felling of the Sycamore Gap tree at Hadrian’s Wall. On the one hand, we value our natural and built heritage, yet on the other we are poor at planning for the future and protecting wider landscapes and biodiversity. Both locally and nationally there is also much to preserve for future generations and much work to be done to create and protect and enhance our countryside through biodiversity and heritage planning and delivery.

Many of us live in Midlothian because it gives us access to Edinburgh but is also set in an amazing environment. From the sweeping Pentland and Moorfoot Hills to the stunning river valleys, we have a natural environment that is in many ways world-class. We have a rich biodiversity, which we need to protect. So too our built heritage, including major Iron Age sites, Rosslyn Chapel, stately homes and castles, to name but a few.

The protection and management of this built and natural heritage and their surrounding landscapes is critical. Later this month, the Midlothian Outdoor Festival will be taking place and it will be a timely reminder of the important role that our ranger services play. However, the importance of our landscapes and biodiversity goes much beyond that, supporting local wildlife, active travel, skills and education and our very health and wellbeing.

We need to do more to care for these precious places and invest in their future. The work being undertaken at Penicuik town centre is a good example of addressing the decline in our built environment. Penicuik House also has ambitious plans for both the built and natural environment. However, we need to plan for the conservation and protection of our rural landscape. Midlothian’s Biodiversity Action Plan is up for a refresh in 2024 and creates a good opportunity to shape how we can ensure that our rich fauna and flora can be preserved and enhanced. The county could also benefit with a comprehensive plan to support the historic environment too. We need to invest in these services and engage our communities.

Yet the State of Nature 2023 report reminds us of the urgency to take action at a national and international scale. The report warns us that wildlife across the UK continues to decline, with one in six species in danger of extinction. Our landscapes are being depleted of flowering plants and our wildlife increasingly marginalised.

The Scottish Government is woefully behind in its proposed biodiversity strategy. The government has wasted millions of pounds and effort on an ill thought out Deposit Return Scheme and abandoned plans for marine areas at a time when it could and should be delivering its biodiversity strategy.

If we want future generations to enjoy the countryside and our heritage tomorrow, it’s time for action at a national and local level, starting with comprehensive biodiversity plans. There is much we can do locally, from habitat restoration to nature-friendly farming and protecting and expanding those wildlife reserves that we have. However, the Scottish Government needs to also step up and show leadership and deliver much-needed investment.

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