Species champions: meet the MSPs fighting to protect Scotland’s wildlife

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3rd July 2017 by Gavin Stuart 1 Comment

From badgers to basking sharks, red squirrels to black grouse, Scotland is home to some of the most iconic and awe-inspiring wildlife in the world.

Yet a recent report has suggested that more than 500 species native to the country are in danger of becoming extinct.

Meanwhile, commercial activity such as farming and forestry has seen landscapes transformed across the country, which has had a dramatic effect on indigenous wildlife.

With Scotland’s biodiversity facing threats from all sides, a groundbreaking initiative has enlisted more than two-thirds of the nation’s MSPs to help promote the country’s flora and fauna and conserve its natural environment.

The species champions project, co-ordinated by Scottish Environment Link, has seen 93 MSPs pair up with one of Scotland’s best-loved or endangered species to act as its ambassador.

In some cases, these are well-known creatures such as the brown hare, championed by Alison Johnstone of the Greens, or the minke whale, which has been matched with the SNP’s Richard Lochhead.

Other MSPs have chosen more obscure wildlife. Conservative Brian Whittle champions the leatherback turtle; Labour leader Kezia Dugdale the mountain sibbaldia, a vulnerable member of the rose family found on the sides of Scotland’s highest peaks.

After enrolling, MSPs advocate for their chosen species in a variety of ways. These can range from asking questions in parliament to working with schools to promote young people’s understanding of Scotland’s natural diversity.

Experts from the Environment Link Wildlife Forum work with the champions to inform them about their chosen species and keep them abreast of important developments.

Alice Walsh, Scottish Environment Link development officer, said: “The motivations behind the campaign came for the difficulties the environmental charities were having in getting sufficient political will behind the ambitions of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

“The aim of halting decline of species by 2010 had demonstrably failed; the duty on various parts of the public and private sector to further the cause of biodiversity was largely ignored; the agencies charged with delivering the strategy were under-resourced and sidelined.”

The initiative has now proven so successful it has inspired similar projects in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as Scottish local authorities.

Craig Macadam, director of partner agency Buglife Scotland, said any MSPs who haven’t yet signed up should get involved.

He said: “When did you last look for creepy-crawlies under a stone? How many of Scotland’s 93,000 species could you name?

“We’re looking for champions to rekindle our excitement about nature’s diversity and our understanding of its importance to our health, wealth and wellbeing. 

“MSPs will learn about how they can contribute to the conservation of their species in parliament and by supporting practical action in the community.”

Graeme Dey MSP, chair of Holyrood’s environment, climate change and land reform committee and species champion for woolly willow, is backing the call.

He said: “I would encourage all of my MSP colleagues, the relatively new and longer serving ones, to get involved in this programme.

“Not only is it highlighting a hugely important subject matter. It’s also good fun.’’

Comments

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6th July 2017 by Helena

Good to see that some unionist MSPs support Scotland's environment and preserving it. Amazing that they had 300+ years to do that, though in many cases the actual opposite was the case, Scotland was pilfered, cleared of people and forests and generally used and abused. Still, better late than never as they say.Also, there is no such party as 'Scottish Labour' they are the Labour party in Scotland. It's worth remembering that, as they are not an autonomous, but a branch of the UK Labour party.