The UN’s World Wildlife Day 2022 is themed around “recovering key species for ecosystem restoration”. The day will draw attention to some of the most endangered species of fauna and flora in the world. The event aims to drive discussions towards exploring solutions to conserve them.
Continued loss of species, habitats and ecosystems threatens all life on Earth, including ours. We rely on nature to meet all our needs, from food to fuel, medicines and housing. Millions of people also rely on the natural world for their livelihoods, making it as important as ever to protecting the plants and animals around us.
Scotland has committed to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and reverse declines by 2045. It is determined to reverse the effects of deforestation, a sentiment that was supported by leaders from over 100 countries at COP26 as they collectively pledged to stop deforestation by 2030.
Scotland is famous for its dramatic scenery. However, take a closer look, and you’ll see that much of it – from Highland glens to Lowland moors – was shaped by humans.
When the immense Caledonian Forest covered most of the country, it provided for its animal residents, who in turn helped pollinate Scotland's landscapes. Human activity began to alter that balance. Trees were cut down to provide fuel and building materials and cleared for crops. Meanwhile, new growth was hampered by the introduction of grazing animals.
Over centuries, the forest receded, indigenous animals were hunted to extinction, ancient communities were abandoned, commercial, non-native forestry was introduced, and the landscape changed.
Today, with a focus on regenerating our nature, Scotland’s landscape is changing again – this time for the better.
Growing back better
With an abundance of striking natural landscapes and habitats that are home to thousands of varieties of flora and fauna, Scotland is uniquely positioned to tackle both biodiversity loss and climate change through nature-based solutions. As part of the Scottish Government’s biodiversity commitments, we have planted 44 million trees so far and we are restoring 250,000 hectares of degraded and drained peatland back to functioning ecosystems. The government are not the only organisation supporting these efforts though...
Since 1986, the Trees For Life charity has been working to restore, regrow, and expand the coverage of the ancient Caledonian Forest. The charity’s vision is of a revitalised wild forest in the Highlands of Scotland, providing space for wildlife and communities to live harmoniously in nature.
They have planted almost two million native trees from Scots pine and birch to rowan, aspen, juniper and oak. The restoration of existing ancient forests also helps create a larger CO2 sink. This is helping Scotland to achieve its ambitious net-zero ambitions.
Working in partnership with local landowners, Forestry and Land Scotland, and the National Trust for Scotland, volunteers carry out much of the replanting. Through their programme of Conservation Weeks, the charity provides opportunities for people from all backgrounds to get into the wild and work together to improve Scotland.
Restored to life
The State of Nature 2019 Scotland report found that average numbers across 352 species of mammals, birds, butterflies and moths had fallen 24% since 1994. It’s a race against time to save the species in Scotland at risk of extinction.
The efforts to make more habitats available for nature has begun to enable some native animals to thrive. Unique birds and mammals, such as the Scottish crossbill, and the Pine Marten are being seen in greater numbers once again. New breeding and feeding grounds are being created for Red Squirrels, and bats, are thriving. But Scotland has bigger ambitions.
Hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 1600s, European Beavers were reintroduced to Knapdale Forest, Argyll in 2009. This was the first authorised mammal reintroduction project anywhere in the UK.
Since then, these mini-ecosystem engineers have thrived, with their dam-building activities creating new wetland habitats and slowing down rain run-off from surrounding hills.
The return of beavers also provides wildlife tourism opportunities. Knapdale’s beavers have attracted visitors from around the world, bringing social and economic benefits to the area. You can even go beaver spotting.
A 2021 NatureScot survey discovered the number of beavers in Scotland had more than doubled to around 1000 in the last three years.
The survey also found that the population is expanding to new territories. Beaver colonies are now spread from Glen Isla to Dundee and Stirling, Forfar to Crianlarich, and are now being seen Loch Lomond.
The Home Front
While we can’t all plant a forest, we can all do our bit to help make our own homes havens for nature. Something as simple as planting nectar-rich wildflowers in a window box, not only brings colour to our lives but also provides a haven for bees – essential to the pollination of plants and crops.
Even in our cities, the creation of green wildlife corridors has a part to play in bringing nature closer to us, and us closer to nature.