New Zealanders are now global pioneers in conservation with over 35% of the land mass – about eight million hectares or roughly the size of Scotland – being protected as public conservation land.
They are experts on island pest eradication, landscape-scale restoration and managing the recovery of critically endangered species. I have been lucky to work with some of the most passionate, dedicated and skilled conservationists on the planet in New Zealand who have saved species such as the Chatham Island Brown Robin, the Takahē and the famous night parrot or Kakapo from the edge of extinction.
Many of these heroes of conservation trace their ancestry back to Scotland and it is time that many of these unique skills and vast knowledge be imported back from the Aotearoa or the land of the long white cloud.
Scotland does have it fair share of conservation heroes as well and recently it was Scottish environmentalists that helped South Georgia to eradicate rats to protect the island’s abundant birdlife. This was the largest ever island pest eradication project and typically there were New Zealand conservationists involved in the project.
New Zealand has launched a Billion Trees Initiative to plant a billion trees across New Zealand. This initiative not only provides habitat for its unique fauna but also creates jobs and economic opportunities for communities, areas for kiwis to relax and recreate but will also vitally sequester billions of tonnes of carbon. Kiwis have planted over 150 million trees so far in only a few years.
It must be asked why does Scotland not plant a billion trees? We certainly have enough land and have ambitious targets, but we can achieve so much more. Scotland has one of the lowest levels of forest cover left in Europe – only 18% compared to an average of 44% across Europe. Much of this is plantations – particularly the hated Sitka Spruce – which have low biodiversity value and sequester only a fraction of carbon compared to native forests. Only tiny fragments of the great Caledonian Forest that swathed Scotland remain, and it is time for it to be replanted. This is what Kaitiaki Consulting is determined to dd.
Scotland’s wildlife is not in good health. The State of Nature report in 2019 highlighted the perilous state that many of our species are in and between 1994 and 2016 49% of species have declined with only 28% increasing. There has been an overall 24% decrease in species abundance in this period.
Sir David Attenborough and the Scottish Wildlife Trust have called for urgent action to create and connect wild places in Scotland. We need to urgently examine how we use land in Scotland and how our actions impact on species, the environment and our climate. We need a Green New Deal for the climate and for our wildlife and wild places.
We need to ask if the millions of hectares that we set aside for driven grouse shooting, deer stalking, and hill sheep farming is the best use of these vast areas of land in Scotland. Scotland has an extremely high concentration of land ownership with 70% of land owned by 1125 owners and policy makers, conservationists and landowners need to work together with communities, businesses and investors to develop landscape-scale ecological restoration projects.
The Cairngorms connect project which aims to restore huge sections of the Cairngorms is already a great example of such a multi-stakeholder project. Organisations such as Trees for Life and the Borders Forest Trust have been undertaking incredible work to protect and enhance habitats for many years now.
There are many grandiose geoengineering schemes to sequester carbon from the air to deal with climate change. Some may be unfortunately be required, and some would be more suited to the pages of the novels of science fiction, but we already have the best tools at hand.
By planting trees, restoring soils and protecting a range of habitats such as peatlands, wetlands and grasslands we can not only reverse the decline in biodiversity but also play a crucial part in addressing the looming climate crisis.
In New Zealand a Kaitiaki is a Maori term for a guardian of the environment. It is time for all of us to become guardians and protectors of our wonderful wild places and well-loved species.
Scotland has hugely ambitious plans to become carbon neutral with a legally binding target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and carbon neutrality by 2040. To achieve this, it will require a widespread and sustained combined effort from government at all levels working in lockstep with private businesses, communities, conservation groups and philanthropists.
With a Scottish Parliamentary election next year, we should demand that the candidates commit to protecting and enhancing the wild places of Scotland, reversing the decline in biodiversity, and addressing the climate crisis..