By Bill Heaney
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is no twitcher, but she views with concern the decline of iconic woodland bird species in Scotland.
Addressing the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change is a central priority for the Government, she told parliament on Thursday.
She said: ” Although the index of abundance for Scottish terrestrial breeding birds shows that the long-term trend is for numbers of woodland birds in Scotland to increase, and it is likely that that will continue as we deliver our targets to expand forest cover and create new native woodland, population numbers for some woodland bird species continue to be a concern.”
In West Dunbartonshire, it is not just the birds that are in decline, but the trees.
The government have been taking action to address that, for example by providing specific support for capercaillie from the forestry grant scheme between 2016 and 2025, as well as funding through the previous rural priority scheme’s capercaillie package.
Borders Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton said: “Nature is under threat—not just the capercaillie but our waders, plovers and curlews—and this Government has failed to meet 11 of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets.
“Farmers have told me that they can be part of the solution to the climate change crisis, and the Government has sat on its hands for too long. There is a climate emergency, and the custodians of our land are keen to protect and meet those biodiversity targets.
“Today, will the First Minister commit to give clarity on agricultural policy and ensure that biodiversity targets are improved, by extending the agri-environment climate scheme beyond 2024 to protect those iconic bird species?”
The First Minister said: “This is an important issue. I recognise that, for some species, there is cause for concern. It is the case that we are seeing an increase in some species, with increases of more than 400 per cent.
“However, where there are declines, it is important that we address them, and the biggest long-term decrease is that of more than 50 per cent in capercaillie.
“On the specifics, we consider short-term and long-term funding to ensure that we are supporting the objectives. Right now, we face a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis. Those are obviously closely linked.
“The Government is very serious about addressing them both, doing what we need to do here in Scotland, and in so doing, setting an example for the rest of the world.
“I welcome the tone of the question. I hope that the question is a signal that, when it comes to the detail of what is needed to meet those objectives, there will be more support from the Scottish Conservatives than there has been in the past.
“Recently, we have seen scaremongering about the talks with the Greens and what that might mean.
“I know that the Conservatives do not like it when we talk about the details of some of this stuff. However, instead of just willing the ends, we must be prepared to do the means.
“That is harder and often controversial. I hope that the question and its tone, which I welcome, signal a change of heart from the Scottish Conservatives.”
Top picture: Capercaillie, the horse of the woods and scarce with it.