Biodiversity: why it matters

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Drosera rotundifolia
Scotland is renowned worldwide as being a place of outstanding natural beauty. We owe that reputation to the diverse range of Scotland’s biodiversity. Biodiversity sustains the natural systems that provide vital goods and services to society: supporting tourism, farming, forestry, aquaculture and fishing industries. It adds variety to our urban green spaces and contributes hugely to our health, well-being and quality of life. Scotland’s nature can, and does, inspire our people. It’s vital that we all play our part in safeguarding and reducing the threats facing our biodiversity.

View of GlencoeTake a look at a postcard rack in any Scottish tourist centre, local cafe or village shop and, apart from jokes about the rain, you will see two clear themes: inspiring landscapes and iconic wildlife. Everything featured illustrates biodiversity in Scotland. They showcase the more popular faces of our more than 90,000 species, the ecological roles they perform, their genetic variation and the habitats and ecosystems they rely on.

Flowers and butterflyEvery living thing in Scotland is fundamental to providing the natural goods and services we depend on to live. This includes food, water, fuel supply, nutrient recycling and carbon sequestration. Take peat bogs, for example. They provide a wide range of biodiversity benefits: not only a haven for wildlife, they also help purify and store water, and amass vast amounts of carbon. It is estimated that globally, peat stores twice as much carbon as forests – according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Scotland’s bogs contain more than three billion tonnes of carbon. And while degraded peat bogs can emit large quantities of greenhouse gases, conserving and restoring them will help lock up carbon and contribute to Scotland’s targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

toadAlong with climate change, biodiversity loss is regarded as the most critical environmental threat facing the world, with losses now occurring at 100 – 1000 times faster than the natural rate. Human pressures on the natural environment, such as intense agriculture and forestry, urbanisation and population growth, are responsible for accelerating the irreversible loss of and damage to biodiversity.

However, it is possible to prevent these losses. Humans are part of nature’s rich diversity and we have the power to protect it or destroy it; the extent of our success will depend on how seriously we take the threat, and how quickly we act.

SEPA's role

Our role is clear. As Scotland’s environmental regulator our role is to protect and improve the environment and manage natural resources in a sustainable way. This includes biodiversity.

We have clear statutory duties to protect and safeguard biodiversity and ecosystem status. We do this through our regulatory functions, setting standards in environmental licences to protect biodiversity, as well as through our lead role in river basin management planning and flood risk management planning. There are also opportunities for us to further protect biodiversity in our role as a statutory consultee in the development planning process.

As part of our monitoring remit, we monitor and report on the state of the environment, including direct measures of biodiversity, which can inform the regulation of activities. As the freshwater habitat lead organisation for tackling the problem of invasive non-native species (INNS), we are responsible for developing strategies to prevent their introduction and spread in order to safeguard biodiversity in freshwater habitats.

We are also working to adopt an ecosystem services (valuing nature) approach to all our decision making, with the aim to ensure that biodiversity is appropriately valued as a key building block for healthy ecosystems.

In order to reduce our own negative environmental impacts, we have made a commitment to encouraging biodiversity in the grounds around our offices. This is part of our wider Greening SEPA programme and the work to improve our own environmental performance.

You can find out more about our approach to biodiversity in our 2015 position statement on biodiversity.

We also work with others to protect Scotland’s biodiversity. We are a key partner in the delivery of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, which was revised and update in 2013 when the Scottish Government published 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity. We have a Delivery Agreement with the Scottish Government that sets out how we will help achieve the targets within the strategy and achieve our ambitious vision for the protection and enhancement of Scotland’s biodiversity.

Along with other public sector bodies, we have a duty to further the conservation of biodiversity. This duty is about connecting people with the environment and managing biodiversity in the wider environment all around us. Every three years, we produce a report on the actions we have taken to fulfil this duty. Our report Biodiversity Duty report for 2011-2014 was published earlier this year.

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