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If we want a healthy future, we need healthy nature

By Simon Jones, Director of Environment at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority

Last week was an important week for nature – while Government Ministers from across the world continued negotiations at COP15 in Montreal, closer to home, Scotland’s new Biodiversity Strategy was launched, setting out a long-term vision for halting loss of species and restoring Scotland’s natural environment.

At the same time, the Scottish Government is consulting on how a new National Park might best protect and restore nature, tackle climate change and promote sustainable land use. It is clear that more than ever we need our National Parks to lead the way in showing what a more sustainable future could look like.

Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history and together with the climate emergency, these twin crises are genuine threats to our future existence as a species, let alone the fate of millions of other species on the planet.

Our natural environment forms the basis of the life-support system that underpins the fabric of our society, our health, our wealth and our economies.  If we want a healthy future, we need healthy nature.

Protected areas like National Parks are not immune to this global crisis and even here in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, nature as a whole is in real trouble.

Pressures from over-grazing, pollution, invasive non-native species and a rapidly changing climate mean that many of our iconic habitats and species are in danger.

Accepting the uncomfortable truth that humans have driven global warming and mass extinctions of species means we have both a necessity and responsibility to act – but that means big changes in the way we all live our lives.

Urgent, bold action is required and with the potential to trial new approaches and the capacity to deliver at scale, Scotland’s National Parks can play an important role.

Our Future Nature programme works with communities, partners, businesses and land managers across the Park to restore biodiversity and the natural environment. We want to create a resilient, nature-rich National Park for future generations, where abundant wildlife and a healthy natural environment provide a wealth of benefits for both people and nature.

Future Nature commits to a step change in ambition and delivery, aiming to reverse the decline in nature by 2030 and ensure the widespread restoration of nature in the Park by 2040.

This means increased management of wild deer populations and livestock in some areas, as they can negatively impact on the ability of forests and peatlands to regenerate.

It means tackling Invasive Non Native Species such as rhododendron, which overwhelms our precious native forests.

And it means prioritising and incentivising the expansion of these woodlands and forests and the restoration of our peatlands and waterbodies – and significantly increasing the resources needed to do this work at a large scale.

Restoring nature (and moving to net zero) means that we must do things differently in terms of land use. It will require a shift away from practices that erode nature and drive climate change towards those that actively restore nature and climate.

Our land managers and rural communities need to be supported as we transition to a more sustainable future, one that delivers for nature and climate, alongside homegrown food and timber.

Change in the related regulatory and support systems – agricultural policy, forestry, rural development and renewable energy production – will be crucial to facilitate that shift.  Specifically, we cannot hope to restore nature with the current set of agricultural policies we have in Scotland.

Our Future Nature programme represents an upscaling of work and ambition but there are already excellent examples of land managed for multiple benefits across the National Park and elsewhere in Scotland.

Covering 160 square kilometres, the Great Trossachs Forest is one of the largest nature reserves in the UK and a good example of an area that is managed for the benefit of both people and nature.

In the first 10 years of a landscape-scale woodland restoration project, more than two million native trees have been planted. Further large-scale creation of native woodland and restoration of hundreds of hectares of degraded peatland is planned.

The forest provides a mosaic of habitats which wildlife needs to thrive and this nature and climate work is ongoing in an area that is also enjoyed by local people and visitors.

Restoring our peatlands will also be key. Around 36 per cent (68,000 hectares) of land in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park is covered by peatland and as well as having the potential to soak up carbon, other greenhouse gases and water, peatlands can sustain a unique range of habitats and species.

However, much of Scotland’s peatlands are degraded, including an estimated 11,000 hectares of deep, broken peatland in the National Park, and there’s a big job to be done in repairing them so they lock up climate change gases and provide healthier habitats for nature.

Additional resources made available for peatland restoration in recent years mean we have been able to ramp up this activity. Since 2015, we have worked with several land managers to restore nearly 1000 hectares of peatland within the Park and we aim to complete restoration of another 400 hectares this year.

Tackling the twin crises of climate change and nature loss cannot be paid for by public finance alone – nor should it. Unlocking private ‘green’ finance, trialling innovation and partnerships are essential to deliver the landscape-scale programmes required.

There are already strong examples of such partnerships, including the peatland restoration partnership between Cairngorms National Park Authority and Santander UK and the BMW partnership with National Parks UK to improve electric vehicle access to National Parks and boost nature restoration.

Scotland’s National Parks have a key role to play in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss – but we cannot do it alone. We need partners in the public, private and charitable sectors, our land managers and communities and the people who live, work and visit the National Park to work with us to build a resilient, nature-positive, carbon-negative National Park.

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