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Geographer Spring 2020

The newsletter of

the Royal Scottish Geographical Society

Nature’s Solutions

The Wisdom of a Nature-Rich Future • Nature in a Net Zero Economy • Mark Carney on Climate Solutions • Geodiversity and Biodiversity Roles • Special Measures for Special Places • Borneo, Biking and Bushfires • Reader Offer: Britain’s Trees

plus news, books, and more…

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein



nature’s solutions Visit us!


growing number of authoritative commentators are saying that we are reaching a crisis point on our planet, with more droughts and floods, ocean warming, and greater atmospheric turbulence. This is all really worrying, and there is a growing sense that action must be taken now to secure healthy ecosystems. Our lifestyles, with high levels of consumption, especially in western countries, are demanding resources beyond our planet’s ability to produce. A rising population with expectations of better lifestyles will add to the burden on natural resources. We could easily decide that nothing can be done about these multiple threats to nature and to people. But we believe that we can turn the situation round, if all parties act in a transformative way, and not business as usual. Frankly, 2020 is the year for obtaining global agreement on what needs to be done. This edition of The Geographer sets out key facts, ideas and propositions, identifies the causes of the changes observed, and spells out the range of potential solutions. It is deliberately entitled Nature’s Solutions as we believe that is critical in tackling the concerns. Understanding how ecosystems work, linking biodiversity and geodiversity approaches to conserving the whole of nature, and recognising soil, air and water as critical natural resources, are all part of the knowledge kit. Observing negative trends and untangling their causes is crucial if solutions are to be found. Now, working with and not against nature, we have to develop nature-based, and even naturerich, solutions. We have to ensure that in decision taking we offset any biodiversity loss with even greater gains. We have to recognise that working at a large scale on building ecosystem resilience will give far greater gains than piecemeal approaches. However, the political will of world leaders is needed to make progress as they meet later this year at the two Conferences of the Parties, on biodiversity and climate change. The ask is immense, but so is the reality of the challenge we face. For our part, we believe it is not too late. In Scotland, we have shown great leadership in devising and pursuing ambitious climate targets. Historically, our science and environmental endeavour has inspired the world, and the time is ripe for another great push. It has been a pleasure for your RSGS Chair to work with former SNH colleagues, especially Des Thompson and Clive Mitchell, and many others in national and international networks, on this special edition. I thank SNH for financial support. Roger Crofts, Chair, RSGS Clive Mitchell, Outcome Manager for People and Nature, SNH Des Thompson, Principal Adviser on Science and Biodiversity, SNH RSGS, Lord John Murray House, 15-19 North Port, Perth, PH1 5LU tel: 01738 455050 email:

Our visitor centre at the Fair Maid’s House will re-open from Monday 6th April until Friday 16th October. Opening hours will be 1.00pm to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, with entry by donation. During this period, we will be showing a range of new exhibitions, as well as displays from our extensive geographical collections. See for further details. The visitor centre is manned by volunteers, so please check that we are open before making a special trip.

visit us!

Geography Day


June Our annual celebration of all things Geography will be held on Saturday 27th June, and will feature as its theme ‘Scotland’s Coasts and Waters’. On hand to share stories from our collections will be Jo Woolf, our Writer-in-Residence, and our in-house archive team under the guidance of Margaret Wilkes. Special guest speakers will be announced in due course. For tickets to this event, held at our offices in Perth, please keep an eye on the What’s On section of our website.

come along!

2019: a year of inspiration

Follow us on social media Charity registered in Scotland no SC015599 The views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily those of the RSGS. Cover image: Short-eared owl amongst heather on moorland during rain shower. © FLPA/​Shutterstock Masthead: Cottongrass. © Colin Woolf

RSGS: a better way to see the world

To celebrate another successful year of inspiration at RSGS, we produced a short video describing some of the highlights. To watch it, please visit

news Geographer The


Spring 2020

Packed hall for Packham

Award for Mr Maclean At a lovely celebration at our headquarters in November, we presented Kenneth Maclean with our Tivy Education Medal for his contribution to the teaching of geography. Kenny is a true polymath with a passion for education, and the award is just a small token of our appreciation for not only his outstanding work in the classroom, but also his contribution to the subject more broadly.

Before Christmas, we enjoyed a sell-out talk at Perth Concert Hall with wildlife presenter Chris Packham OBE. Funny, irreverent and no-nonsense, Chris guided us through his early life, and how he first fell in love with nature. He discussed his Asperger’s condition, his work in photography, and his break into the media, before concluding with a rousing call on how we can all work together to better protect our environment. See pages 16-17 for his interview with our Writer-in-Residence Jo Woolf.

UN climate conference (COP25)

In collaboration with long-time colleague the late Norman Thomson, Kenny penned numerous highly regarded textbooks during his career; his first in 1975, and his latest, Higher Geography, in 2005. For the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers, he co-wrote the impressive tome The History of Geography Teaching in Scotland and edited their journal for many years. Kenny has also been a stalwart for the RSGS, supporting the collections team and office staff with his high-quality research and articles over several years. Many congratulations.

Levison Wood FRSGS

In early December, nearly 27,000 delegates attended the UN climate conference (COP25) in Madrid, aiming to finalise the details behind the Paris Agreement by settling on rules for carbon markets and other forms of international cooperation. They also hoped to signal to the wider world that the UN climate process remains relevant and recognises the yawning gap between current progress and global goals to limit warming. However, the talks were unable to reach consensus in many areas, pushing decisions into 2020 when COP26 comes to Glasgow. There was a growing sense of a disconnect between these slow, impenetrable UN processes and the action being demanded by protesters around the world. There were moves to raise ambition by some non-state actors with, for example, 177 companies pledging to cut emissions in line with the 1.5°C target as part of the Climate Ambition Alliance. This came after a group of 477 investors, controlling $34tn in assets, called on world leaders to update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and step up ambition. Finally, owing to its original intended location in Chile, a nation with around 4,000 miles of coastline, the leadership dubbed the 2019 event the ‘blue COP’, laying out its intention to focus on oceans, which 39 countries committed to include in their future NDCs. With COP25 being the final summit before the deadline year of 2020, it was seen by many as a last chance to secure increased ambition. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand?”

Following a fascinating talk at Perth Concert Hall in early February, explorer, author and broadcaster Levison Wood was made Honorary Fellow of RSGS. Through his personable, amenable approach, Levison has captured the public’s imagination with his infectious love for adventure, travel and storytelling. But it is his quest to paint an honest and hopeful picture of misrepresented parts of the world that really sets him apart. Through his capacity to inspire trust in people, Levison provides a platform for locals to tell their stories. And as such, he presents a much more positive, hopeful and compassionate story for the world – a story which is rarely portrayed on our news channels and social media.

2 Spring 2020



Make space for nature

In late October, at the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Geography Teachers (SAGT), RSGS Chair Professor Roger Crofts stepped down from his position of Honorary Patron after years of unwavering support and promotion.

New global biodiversity targets will be set at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Kunming, China, in October. To help develop the new targets, the Scottish Government will host a workshop at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in conjunction with the CBD on 1st-3rd April 2020. The workshop will focus on the role of subnational governments, regions and cities in sustaining global biodiversity.

SAGT is a community of teachers from across Scotland who are dedicated to the further development and teaching of geography. And this year, they are celebrating their 50th anniversary! To mark the milestone, we were pleased to give SAGT representatives the chance to attend a private reception with Levison Wood in Perth.

One to watch Filmmaker Damon Gameau turns his attention to environmental issues in his latest project, 2040. In this film, which Christiana Figueres FRSGS described as “a compelling vision”, he sets out to address concerns around transport, energy, farming, education and more, looking for existing solutions around the world. Addressing the film to his young daughter who will be 25 by the year 2040, this is an insightful and thoughtprovoking piece with a hopeful message of how we can all make a positive difference to the world. Commenting on the documentary, Damon said, “It is clear we have everything we need right now to create a better 2040. This is a film highlighting what we can fight for, rather than fight against. Determination and passion are the most important renewable energy resources we have. People working together with a common goal will shift vested interests and make implementing the solutions possible.”

Farming in the future National Farmers’ Union of Scotland

Ahead of the workshop, SNH and RBGE are holding events on 31st March 2020 to showcase their work to improve Scotland’s nature, highlight the pressures facing our habitats and species, and offer an opportunity for agencies, NGOs, business, researchers, community groups and others to promote their work and highlight the great amount of collaboration happening across organisations. See for details.

Scot’s South Pole success After 58 long days of skiing, Mollie Hughes reached the Geographic South Pole on Friday 10th January. In doing so, the 29-year-old became the youngest woman in the world to ski solo from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. Soon after her return to Scotland, she spoke as part of our Inspiring People talks programme, following in the footsteps of polar greats such as Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen. During the presentation, we were delighted to see a picture of our explorers flag flapping at the Earth’s most southerly point! Many congratulations, Mollie!

James A Goodlad FRSGS (1938-2019) John Blease FRSGS, Secretary, RSGS Ayr Group

Climate change is a critically important issue for Scottish farmers and crofters. RSGS Chief Executive Mike Robinson was asked to present at the NFU Scotland AGM, and answer questions on climate change and the work being done by the Farming for 1.5 Degrees inquiry which he cochairs with Nigel Miller.

Sadly we report the death of Jim Goodlad in December, aged 81. Born in Kent to parents from Shetland, and educated at Gordonstoun and Aberdeen University, Jim was Principal Teacher of Geography at Cumnock Academy for 24 years, where he ran the school Weather Station and wrote a textbook on the Cumnock area for the Alternative ‘O’ Grade. He was a founder member of SAGT, and helped organise conferences in Ayr and, in retirement, the Worldwise Quiz. Jim was a mainstay of RSGS in Ayr, including being Secretary and Treasurer for over 15 years. He wrote the RSGS books for secondary and primary schools commemorating the 100th anniversary of Bruce’s Scottish Antarctic Expedition of 1902-04.

NFU Scotland members were interested to hear what climate change could mean for Scottish agriculture, and the leadership opportunities that come from working to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is clear that, going forward, agriculture will have a critical role to play. NFU Scotland have stated their strong commitment to ensuring that farmers are part of the solution to climate change.

Jim was a keen sailor and fitted out his 26’ yacht in his Prestwick front garden! Balivoe took Jim, wife Margaret and their three sons all around the west of Scotland, as well as to Norway, Stockholm, Brittany and circumnavigating Ireland. In retirement, Jim and Margaret travelled extensively, visiting Australia, New Zealand, the Canadian Rockies, US National Parks, Hawaii, South America and Antarctica.

news Geographer The


Spring 2020

Review of Scottish education

Horrible Geography of Scotland

In January, the Scottish Government agreed to a broad inquiry into Scottish education after opposition MSPs united in criticising current educational performance. A study of the senior phase of schooling had already been ordered after a critical report on narrowing subject choices from Holyrood’s education committee was published last year, but after a Parliamentary vote this will now become a “full review” of broader education. The review is to be carried out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

After a slight delay, we are now making good progress on the creation of a new educational children’s book about Scotland’s geography and geographical heroes, which was the subject of a fundraising appeal to members and supporters in 2018. The most recent contribution towards the costs of this project was a generous donation from the Bartholomew family, resulting from the sale of the gold Livingstone Medal which had been awarded to Dr Marion Newbigin, a keen proponent of innovative teaching and learning, and long-standing editor of the SGJ. We hope to publish the book in late summer 2020, making it available for schools in the new academic year. And we already have a draft design for the front cover!

Follow us! Our social media channels are important tools in promoting our charitable work, and keeping in touch with members, contacts and the wider world. We update Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram regularly with all the latest goings-on at the Society, including upcoming events, new videos, inspiring stories, and geographical insight.

The Ancestor’s Tale

Please follow us, engage and help repost our content to spread our positive message.

Knowledge Exchange Grants Our latest round of Knowledge Exchange Grants for early career researchers is now open for applications. The grants range from £200 to £1,000, and aim to promote geography by disseminating results of geographical enquiry and research for the benefit of the wider public. The closing date for applications is by th Friday 17th April 2020. April See for further details.

apply 17

Delight for Dundee designer The transformation of Dundee waterfront over the past two decades has been nothing short of inspirational. It has breathed new life, new soul and new purpose into an area that was both disconnected from the wider city and out-dated. It has put Dundee on the map. The man behind these plans was urban designer Mike Galloway, to whom we were pleased to award Honorary Fellowship in December. Commenting on the award, Mike said, “Planners are multidisciplinary people: there’s a bit of architecture in me, a bit of planning, art and engineering too. To have geography now brings the full set, which is fantastic!”

Medal success Congratulations to Lewis Bruce, who was awarded the 2019 RSGS University Medal at the University of Aberdeen, and who is now training to become a high school teacher.

The centre pages of this edition of The Geographer feature an illustration of the 40 rendezvous points with our common ancestors, stretching from humankind back to the dawn of life on Earth, created by artist Annie Armstrong, based on an idea from our Chief Executive who was inspired by The Ancestor’s Tale, a book by Richard Dawkins and Yan Wong. We have a small number of Annie’s art prints, unframed and A3 in size, available to purchase from RSGS at a cost of £26 including UK postage and packaging. For further information, please email and use the subject ‘Annie Armstrong art print’ or send a cheque to the RSGS office in Perth.

Mad Seat Mad Challenges encourages individual action and responses to the climate emergency; their flagship event Mad Seat will take place on 29th-30th May 2020. Participants choose between six, 12 or 24 hours to climb Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat as many times as they can, and collect pledges on Do Nation. Pledges are low-cost commitments to actions that have positive environmental, social, financial and health benefits, such as reducing meat consumption or washing clothes at a lower temperature. For more information check out #MadSeat2020.

4 Spring 2020



Connecting young Scots with nature

Novel Coronavirus. 2019-nCoV. COVID-19. This is the new respiratory virus which emerged in December 2019, and has been linked to a probable animal source in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei Province. It’s an important and developing geographical story, but should we be changing our behaviour here at home? According to the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, the answer is ‘no’. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in early February, he commented that people in the UK should not be worried, and instead should simply be taking normal, sensible precautions to avoid getting any virus, such as hand-washing, using tissues when sneezing and disposing of them after. He added that the virus was likely to go “one of two ways” in the coming months. Either the Chinese Government’s extraordinary efforts will get on top The of the epidemic. Or, alternatively, it will become impossible to contain Zoonoses and will spread across the world, eventually to the UK. At this point, the NHS has a comprehensive plan in place: to contain, to delay, to ramp up R&D, and to mitigate the virus. But with spring coming, it is hoped that the change of season will do much to inhibit the spread of the virus. For more insight into zoonotic diseases, read our winter 2013 magazine at

Reid Aiton, Stakeholder Communications Manager, Young Scot

-14 Winter 2013


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Climate Emergency Summit II We held our second Climate Emergency Summit in January, bringing together experts in sustainability working across a broad spectrum of topics, fields and industries. The theme for this event was ‘Financing the Transition: Tax and Subsidies’. Following a series of presentations and workshops, the participants worked together to highlight a number of priority themes and action areas, ranging from a renewable sovereign wealth fund and GDP alternatives, to free public transport for all and a new Climate Change Emergency (Scotland) Bill. The key findings from this report are hosted at and will be submitted to Government.

Hot air balloon record In February, Alicia Hempleman-Adams, daughter of RSGS Vice-President Sir David Hempleman-Adams, broke the women’s world record for altitude in a small hot air balloon. She flew more than 15,000 feet in the air, above Calgary in Canada, in an AX4 class balloon, one of the smallest categories, with a 3ft by 3ft basket and a tiny oxygen tank. She said, “I won’t say it was easy because when you’re up that high and you’re looking down you’re thinking ‘oh crap’, but the balloon made it a lot more enjoyable.” Her father commented, “You bring your daughters up, educate them and teach them how to fly, and then they go off and beat your records!”

Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH) Future Routes Fund is aimed at 11-26-year olds in Scotland. The £20,000 fund aims to help young people to improve their local environment, increase their knowledge and understanding of Scottish biodiversity, and to provide more opportunities for them to connect with nature. The fund was developed by Scotland’s youth biodiversity panel, ReRoute, which has worked with SNH and Young Scot to involve young people in Scotland’s nature and outdoors, and to develop and implement recommendations for how SNH can better engage young people in their work. ReRoute designed the fund to be for the benefit of young people and easy to apply for, and they worked hard to encourage submissions from a wide range of young people, regardless of their level of interest in nature. Natural Connections (Stirling & Falkirk) will make nature available to care-experienced young people who spend most of their time indoors. Mad Challenges and the Pink Panthers Explorer Scouts (Edinburgh) will organise three outdoor workshops to support young people to explore their relationship with nature and design a group project that will benefit their local environment. Discovering Nature on My Doorstep (East Renfrewshire & Glasgow) will give young people the opportunity to observe and record wildlife in their gardens or open space(s) using equipment such as trail cameras, bat detectors and moth traps. Kwood Youth (Glasgow) will design and create a community garden. Find out more at

Hand-over in high places

Our team of Young Geographer editors were delighted to present Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Ms Fiona Hyslop, with their new magazine in late December. The hand-over took place at the Scottish Parliament, a fitting venue given the Scottish Government’s support in helping make this project happen. The magazine, which features Greta Thunberg, Lewis Pugh and Calum Maclean, covers issues such as climate change, ecotourism, and nature, and provides a young person’s perspective on the relationship between Scotland and the Arctic.

Croll creativity Our Chief Executive, Mike Robinson, has been busy of late speaking to external groups and, in particular, inspiring audiences with the story of the life and work of James Croll, who now has a dedicated garden at our visitor centre. Whilst working as a janitor, Croll quietly researched the science behind the Earth’s glacial/inter-glacial cycles, its climate and its orbital motion – research which today forms the basis of modern climate change understanding. One of Mike’s presentations was to the Perthshire Plays Playwriting Group, who then created new pieces for a staged reading of their work in Perth Theatre Café in March.

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Spring 2020

Climate Solutions

New Fellows

Lindsey Gibb, Climate Solutions Programme Manager, RSGS

Maggie Gill

Clive Mitchell

Alison Hester

ne Jamie Livingsto

ell Catherine Gemm

Shona Nicol

Several new Honorary Fellows have been added to our influential network in recent months. These include Professor Anne McKillop Colin Mitchell Maggie Gill of the University of Aberdeen, an expert in agricultural sciences; Professor Alison Hester of the James Hutton Institute, a specialist in sustainable land use and natural resources; Catherine Gemmell of the Marine Conservation Society in Scotland, a powerhouse of ocean optimism; Dr Clive Mitchell of Scottish Natural Heritage, a leading figure in conservation policy in Scotland; Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, a well-known campaigner for a climate-just world and a more socially responsible Scotland; and Shona Nicol, Head of Data Standards in the Scottish Government, a well-respected GIS practitioner. RSGS volunteers Colin Mitchell, Chair of the RSGS Dumfries Group, and Anne McKillop, Fair Maid’s House and school group host, were also recognised. Many congratulations to you all!

Members go mining

The time to act on climate change is now. There’s more pressure from stakeholders, staff and society than ever before. But, in the most part, businesses are not ready for the transition to a net zero carbon world. And they are the ones who can make the biggest difference. To fill this gap in learning, Climate Solutions has been designed to upskill senior leaders and managers quickly and thoroughly. A mix of online training modules and a full-day workshop will provide the information and tools needed at a time, place and pace that suits each participant. And unlike most other training courses available, the focus will be on solutions, specifically what is already being done, and needs to be done in the future, to reverse climate breakdown. This knowledge will then be applied to each organisation to identify opportunities and correctly position them in an increasingly climate-aware marketplace. Participants who recently completed the pilot are already seeing the value in the course: “I’m going to have to think about the impacts and opportunities from a whole new sector perspective,” and “I thought it was excellent. Right level of detail, well linked together, and didn’t take too long.” The course shortcuts vast amounts of literature and reading, and provides a solid understanding of the need for action, climate science, policies and solutions, highlighting all the while the irrefutable business case for addressing this issue now. Along the way, it features a raft of bespoke content from Mark Carney, Gordon Buchanan, Greta Thunberg, and Christiana Figueres, among many others. The programme is being developed by RSGS in association with Stirling University, Edinburgh University and the Institute of Directors, along with digital content creators Jump Digital and support from the Scottish Government. The course will be launched in March 2020, and will allow participants and organisations to work towards climate solutions accreditation. See pages 24-25 for our interview with Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, about the risks and opportunities that climate change presents to businesses and the economy.

get involved! Contact or see In February, RSGS Edinburgh members enjoyed a special visit to the Scottish Mining Museum in remembrance of Ian Hogarth. Ian, who died in late 2018, volunteered for the Society in a number of capacities and was a former mining engineer specialising in ventilation. The Mining Museum visit was enjoyed by all; the full-scale models and pertinent videos shown throughout were particularly appreciated. Our thanks go to William Mackay for organising this wonderful day in Newtongrange.

Wood anemones and celandines. © Colin Woolf

6 Spring 2020

Global biodiversity: decline, stability or gain? Professor Roger Crofts CBE FRSGS, RSGS Chair, and IUCN WCPA Emeritus

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), operational from December 1993 and ratified by 196 countries, is the key framework for global, national and local action on biodiversity. The Convention has three main objectives: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

Causes of biodiversity loss The IPBES report gives clear indication of the causes. Agricultural land has expanded by 100 million hectares in the tropics from 1980 to 2000, mainly cattle ranching in Latin America (c42m ha) and plantations in Southeast Asia (c7.5m ha, 80% for oil palm), half of it at the expense of intact forests. Native forest cover has diminished by 290 million hectares from 1990 to 2015 due to clearing and wood harvesting. More than 85% of wetlands present in 1700 had been lost by 2000 (now three times faster than forest loss). Invasive species have increased by 70% since 1970 across 21 countries. Degradation has caused a 23% loss of land productivity. A third of the world’s land surface and three-quarters of freshwater resources are devoted to crop or livestock production. Global per capita consumption of materials has increased by 15% since 1980.

“2020 is a critical year for decision making on biodiversity conservation.”

2020 is a critical year for decision making on biodiversity conservation. The quadrennial International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress meets in June to debate issues and pass resolutions in the hope of influencing state parties at the convention conferences later in the year. Two are of particular importance: the CBD Conference of the Parties (COP) in Kunming in October, and the climate change COP in Glasgow in November, given the proven direct and indirect links between climate change and biodiversity decline. Global status of biodiversity

Reliable statistics show a continuing decline in global biodiversity: loss of individual species, many others threatened with extinction, and habitats fragmented. Not cheerful reading. An important indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity is the IUCN Red List of species, a ‘barometer of life’ of plants, fungi and animal species. It provides an informed assessment of trends and their causes, therefore allowing better decisions on the actions needed. This sophisticated assessment classifies species into categories of increasing risk of extinction. The trends are not positive for many species groups, with 41% of amphibians, 25% of mammals, 30% of sharks and rays, 33% of reef corals, 34% of conifers, and 14% of birds threatened with extinction. In all, over 30,000 species are threatened with extinction, 27% out of over 112,000 species assessed. Of the CBD’s 20 targets, set in 2010 for achievement by 2020, only four report good progress, and globally all will be missed. This was reaffirmed by the recent Global Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which reported that a million species are now at risk of extinction. It noted that the current rate of global species extinction is tens to hundreds of times higher compared to average over the last ten million years, and the rate is accelerating. Sir Robert Watson, IPBES Chair, said, “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” The current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, including those related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.

The IPBES report focuses on the five drivers of negative change in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution; (5) invasive alien species. It adds that there are also indirect drivers of change, including increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability. Reversing the trends According to Sir Robert Watson, “It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.” He added that, through ‘transformative change’, “nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.” Put another way, this means radically shifting from the current economic, resource consumption-focused approach to one which has multiple goals with positive interconnections ensured.

FURTHER READING IPBES report ( ipbes-2019-global-assessment-report-on-biodiversity-and-ecosystemservices) IUCN Red List categories of risk of extinction, for more than 112,000 assessed species.



Spring 2020

White-tailed eagle. © Lorne Gill | SNH

Fundamental changes are needed, especially by national governments, by refocusing policies and strategies. Changing natural resource use to achieve no negative effects on nature is essential. All of these transformations will require national indicators of performance to be refocused on the wellbeing of people and nature, and to integrate biodiversity values into national and local development planning. Mobilising financial and other resources, such as technology and scientific knowledge, and greater engagement of the business sector, are needed to help reverse the current negative trends. Resources in public and private sectors will need to be radically redistributed to achieve this. Internationally agreed targets are an important mechanism, provided they address the fundamental issues and are not merely politically easy to agree. Improved management of sites and areas for biodiversity conservation and restoration of habitats and natural processes is a priority. There is clear evidence that areas owned and managed by Indigenous people and local communities are better looked after than other arrangements. Giving nature a helping hand by restoring the health of endangered species through ex situ programmes (ie, not in the wild) are important. More generally, raising awareness among the public and decision makers of the threats and actions, alongside improvements to legislation and its more effective enforcement, will all help. A key change in approach must be to eliminate biodiversity-

Scots pinewoods and the braided River Feshie, Glenfeshie. © Lorne Gill | SNH

harmful subsidies for agriculture and forestry. This is a major challenge in most countries. In the UK, a radically refashioned scheme of support for land stewardship, with the tripartite aims of producing high quality food, maintaining the natural capacity of the soil, and not damaging the environment, must be a priority. Additionally, shaping markets to produce socially beneficial outcomes is vital. IUCN’s view is that decisive action at all biological and political levels is required. The 2050 vision should be net biodiversity gain and humans living in harmony with nature. The 2030 mission should be no net biodiversity loss. IUCN concludes that “a key aim is to bend the curve of biodiversity loss to the positive.” The CBD Secretariat proposes that, by 2030, “at least 30% of land and seas are protected with at least 10% under strict protection.” This is a very weak formulation, as many other commentators agree. There have been some recent successes with the help of captive breeding, bringing eight bird species and two freshwater fish species back from the brink of extinction, showing that nature will recover if given half a chance. That is certainly true in Scotland, with the successful reintroduction of the European beaver in Knapdale (now a fully protected species there and elsewhere), and the red kite and sea eagle, and the restoration of increasingly extensive areas of blanket bogs in areas such as the Flow Country. All is not lost, but without transformative change in thinking and action, policy and resource allocation, we will miss the boat, and we don’t want it to be Noah’s Ark.

8 Spring 2020

By leaves we live Dr Clive Mitchell FRSGS, Outcome Manager for People and Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage So said the polymath Patrick Geddes some 100 years ago – how profoundly right he was! The evolution of the leaf nearly 400 million years ago allowed modern soils and, thereby, modern hydrological and carbon cycles to develop. Climate and nature have always been in a constant dance, moving with each other, governed by and reflected in the global cycling of key elements and nutrients. We, and all life, are part of biogeochemical cycles. The current crises in climate and nature result from the shortcircuiting of these cycles arising from our use of natural resources, especially fossil fuels. The two main cycles relate to carbon and nitrogen, and both are regulated in important ways by soils. The carbon cycle There are two main parts to the carbon cycle: fast and slow. Soils and vegetation (the bulk of nature) are at their centre. The fast carbon cycle comprises carbon in the atmosphere, oceans and on land in vegetation, soils and freshwaters. The system is characterised by large volumes of carbon moving quickly through these reservoirs. Time is measured by the lifespan of organisms, soil processes and ocean currents, from minutes to thousands of years. Plants and phytoplankton are the main biological components. They exchange carbon with the atmosphere through photosynthesis and respiration. The pulse of these exchanges is regulated by the seasons. Dead and decaying vegetation contributes to the soil resource. The slow carbon cycle comprises huge carbon stores in rocks and sediments which exchange carbon over a vastly long period, through emissions of volcanic gases including CO2, erosion and chemical weathering of rocks, and sediment formation on land and on the sea floor. Time is measured by soil processes, rock weathering and the movement of tectonic plates; turnover rates are mainly geological, from thousands to millions of years. Soils play a critically important role in this, regulating the process of weathering rocks and passing dissolved carbon into rivers and oceans. In the oceans, carbon enters the marine carbon cycle, eventually to be returned to sediments and the vast rock reservoir. Excess CO2 in the oceans leads to a decrease in its pH, which is corrosive for calcium carbonate shells, including plankton at the base of marine food webs. This ‘ocean acidification’ is the evil twin of climate warming. Natural exchange fluxes between the slow and the fast domain of the carbon cycle are relatively small – the system is normally in equilibrium. This equilibrium is maintained through chemistry, buffering carbon across the oceans, land, and atmosphere. For example, if carbon dioxide rises in the atmosphere because of an increase in volcanic activity, temperatures rise, leading to more rain, which dissolves more rock, creating, through activity in soils, more ions that will eventually deposit more carbon on the ocean floor. It typically takes tens of thousands of years to rebalance the slow carbon cycle through chemical weathering. Put like this, it all sounds quite benign, but these perturbations have significant impacts on marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Waterfall at the Kilt Rock near Staffin, Isle of Skye. © Lorne Gill | SNH

Skye and Mull A fine example of the carbon cycle is recorded in the plateau



Spring 2020

basalts of Skye and Mull. These lavas were erupted about 55 million years ago as the North Atlantic Ocean began to open. Between the lavas are classic signs of sub-tropical weathering: red soil horizons (boles), onion-skin weathering and lateratisation. But, Scotland’s weather is not tropical. The Atlantic Ocean opened east-west, so the change in climate cannot be attributed to Scotland lying further south at that time. The climate belts must have shifted northward. Sedimentary rocks which were formed in the deep ocean at this time switch from carbonates to muds, and carbon isotope records are consistent with a pulse of CO2 emissions associated with the eruption of the lavas. This triggered a period of rapid climate change, the so-called Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. It is thought that this event resulted from the release of about the same amount of carbon as projected under current business-as-usual scenarios, but over thousands of years rather than a few hundred. It took the Earth around 50,000 years to recover, based on the excursion of the carbon isotope record. Fossil fuels and oil

These all overlap. Any use of the land involves either capture or release of greenhouse gases, and net zero requires the enhancement of land (and coastal) carbon sinks. At the same time, any use of the land involves enhancing or reducing the capacity of human and natural systems to adapt to climate change. Due to lags in the climate system, further warming of at least 0.6°C is inevitable even if all anthropogenic emissions stopped today. So, for land use, it’s not possible to disentangle mitigation and adaptation. Finally, the state of nature results from the choices we make about the use of the land and sea.

“The response to the triple challenge must engage the source of the problem: our use of fossil fuels and natural resources.”

Fossil fuels are part of the slow carbon cycle. The carbon in this ‘sink’ would normally be returned to the atmosphere over tens or hundreds of millions of years. Extracting and burning fossil fuels short-circuits this cycle, returning the carbon to the atmosphere and the fast carbon cycle over a few decades. The rate and scale of this input to the atmosphere is the problem. Although there are several examples of abrupt climate change in the geological record, they are all at least an order of magnitude slower compared to current man-made climate change. The climate emergency is a triple challenge

Alongside the disruption to the global carbon cycle, the human disruption of the global nitrogen cycle, largely through agricultural and transport emissions, is as important. The short-circuiting of the carbon and nitrogen cycles is the root of anthropogenic climate change. In order to avoid

© Colin Woolf

‘dangerous climate change’, we have to simultaneously address three challenges: • transition to a net zero economy; • adapt to climate change that is already locked into the system; and • address the state of nature and the associated five main drivers of biodiversity loss.

The response to the triple challenge must engage the source of the problem: our use of fossil fuels and natural resources on land and at sea, and the effects of this on biogeochemical cycles that regulate a habitable space for life and a safe operating space for humanity. This is about all land and sea, not just the nature that resides in protected areas or even the ‘half’ that some conservationists call for. As components of biogeochemical cycles, the choice between ‘nature’ and ‘production’ is a false one. A nature-rich future is not only our best insurance against the climate emergency, in building resilience in our social and ecological systems and regulating biogeochemical cycles; it is an essential measure by which we judge our success now and forever. Diversity is key to that. All life on Earth is part of biogeochemical cycles which, in turn, regulate the habitable space for life. Indeed, by leaves we live.

10 Spring 2020

The wisdom of the hazel Jo Woolf FRSGS, RSGS Writer-in-Residence

An old Irish legend tells how a hazel tree bent its branches over the Well of Wisdom. Nine hazelnuts fell into the pool, and were eaten by salmon, a fish revered by the druids. While cooking one of these salmon for his druid master, a young lad called Fionn mac Cumhaill tasted some of the fish; in so doing, he absorbed the salmon’s magical knowledge and grew up to become one of the most heroic figures in Irish mythology. The earliest humans to arrive on Britain’s shores must have found the hazel extremely useful. In the Somerset Levels, where trackways across the marsh were laid down from around 4000 BC onwards, hurdles of hazel bearing evidence of coppicing are among the first known examples of woodland management in Europe. Pits containing hundreds of charred hazel shells, the remains of Mesolithic feasts, have been found on Skye and Colonsay. Lengths of hazel were used in wattle-and-daub walls, and to peg down thatched roofs. Hazel charmed its way into our minds: in Flora Scotica (1777), the Reverend John Lightfoot wrote, “Some of the Highlanders, where superstition is not totally subsided, look upon the tree itself as unlucky, but are glad to get two of the nuts naturally conjoin’d, which is a good omen. These they call Cnò-chomhlaich, and carry them as an efficacious charm against witchcraft.” Hazelnuts were also believed to ward off rheumatism, and a hazel twig tied to a horse’s mane was thought to protect the animal from evil spirits. According to 17th century horticulturist John Evelyn, a hazel rod was an indispensable tool.

weird-looking hazel gloves fungus (Hypocreopsis rhododendri). At Ballachuan on Seil island in Argyll, a precious 56-acre remnant of Atlantic hazelwood is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. One of the best times to visit is in late April, when the emerging leaves filter a greenish light through to the woodland floor, and the bluebells are just coming into flower. Sprinkled here and there are the little white stars of wood sorrel and wood anemones, flourishing among the deep moss of fallen branches, while in the sunnier clearings primroses and violets speckle the grass. To the east, the wood drops away to the Sound of Seil, where otters frequent the quiet bays and take advantage of the fresh water issuing from nearby Ballachuan Loch. In the heart of the woodland, stools of hazel extend in every direction as far as the eye can see, their branches meeting just a few feet above head height. Birdsong floats down from the canopy, while empty hazel shells, no doubt discarded by field voles or wood mice, are strewn underfoot. The atmosphere is one of sanctuary and stillness. No wonder the bards loved the hazel: there is an old magic here. “...move along these shades In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand Touch—for there is a spirit in the woods.” (William Wordsworth, from Nutting)

“Scotland’s Atlantic hazelwoods are thought to have been in existence for 10,000 years.”

“…by whatsoever occult Virtue, the Forked-stick (so cut, and skilfully held) becomes impregnated with those invisible Steams and Exhalations; as by its spontaneous Bending from an horizontal Posture to discover not only Mines and subterraneous Treasure, and Springs of Water, but Criminals guilty of Murther, &c…” (Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-Trees, 1664) While hazel catkins were believed to bring bad luck if carried into the house, there was no such fear about hazelnuts. At Hallowe’en, women would sit around the fire and take turns to throw hazelnuts into the flames. Each one represented a potential lover: nuts that cracked and jumped out meant that the lover would be faithless, but if they burned steadily the love would be true. Hazel gloves fungus, Ballachuan. © Colin Woolf

Hazel is a pioneer species, and when the ice retreated after the last glacial period it was quick to take advantage of newly exposed ground. Scotland’s Atlantic hazelwoods are thought to have been in existence for 10,000 years, making them older than many of our Caledonian pinewoods. Occurring in the west, from Knapdale up to Sutherland, and always close to the rain-drenched coast, they host some of Europe’s richest collections of oceanic mosses, liverworts and lichens. Unique to this habitat is the rare and


Trees of Britain and Ireland, by Edward Milner The New Sylva, by Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet Flora Britannica, by Richard Mabey Atlantic Hazel, by A M Coppins and B J Coppins (SNH, 2010) The Rainforests of Britain and Ireland, by Clifton Bain


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Spring 2020

Nature-lovers prefer redheads Lorne Gill FRSGS, Photographer, Scottish Natural Heritage

‘Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ is a phrase custom-made for the red squirrel. Add ‘tufty-eared’ and you’ve got a good impression of what makes Britain’s only native squirrel so appealing. Scotland is now home to more than three-quarters of Britain’s red squirrels. Loss of the woodlands where they live, competition with grey squirrels descended from animals brought over from North America, and a disease called squirrelpox have all given reds big problems. But there are still several parts of Scotland where they thrive and where you can enjoy good red squirrel watching. Red squirrels spend most of their time up in the tree canopy. So the first clue you might get to one being nearby is a scuffling sound high above. Craning your neck back, look for a small (18-24cm body length) animal with sleek, richlycoloured fur. Coat colours vary from dark to very pale red on the back, legs and flanks, and the distinctive bushy tail (which can be almost as long as the body) tends to become more cream-coloured in summer.

“There are still several parts of Scotland where you can enjoy good red squirrel watching.” Red squirrel. © Lorne Gill | SNH

12 Spring 2020

Biodiversity and grouse moor management Professor Alan Werritty FRSE FRSGS FBSG, Emeritus Professor of Physical Geography, University of Dundee

Approximately 7% of Scotland’s moorland is currently used for shooting grouse, with profound impacts on its biodiversity. The nature of that impact is highly contested: conservationists point to raptor persecution and excessive culling of mountain hares; estate owners note the preservation of key habitats for waders such as curlew, lapwing and golden plovers. The debate on how better to manage Scotland’s grouse moors has been the driver for a Scottish Government review on grouse moor management, published in December 2019. That review was charged with making proposals for the more sustainable management of moorland by reducing the illegal killing of raptors and improving existing land management practices, specifically muirburn, culling mountain hares, and using medicated grit. At the same time, any proposals needed to have regard for their potential impact on Scotland’s rural economy.

runs the risk of generating damaging wildfires with adverse impacts on both biodiversity and carbon storage. Failure to comply with the existing voluntary Muirburn Code represents a risk that needs stronger regulation. Accordingly, the review group recommended that muirburn should be made unlawful unless carried out under a licence and in compliance with the Muirburn Code.

“Mountain hares, especially abundant on grouse moors, are a protected species whose population levels have proved very difficult to determine.”

Mountain hares, especially abundant on grouse moors, are a protected species whose population levels have proved very difficult to determine. This partly reflects an unwillingness by many estates to release information on both the numbers present and the numbers culled in any given year. In order to better determine the conservation status of mountain hares, the review group recommends a new legal requirement that all estates annually record the number of mountain hares present (using a new standardised reporting procedure developed by SNH) and report the number shot. In addition, adaptive management should be used (in consultation with SNH) to determine the initial and subsequent numbers of mountain hares that are permitted to be shot over successive years.

The review group accepted the claim that current wildlife crime statistics for raptors severely underestimate the number illegally killed. In particular the group noted the findings of a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report which Medicated grit is administered to grouse via documented that 40 out of 131 satelliteopen trays on the hillside to reduce their worm tracked golden eagles had disappeared burden and thereby increase the number of over the period 2004-16 under suspicious adult birds available for shooting. Only circumstances, mostly in areas of grouse moors. currently regulated by the need for a To reduce such persecution, the review group veterinarian’s prescription, there recommended that, if by 2024 the populations are concerns over the use of of golden eagles, hen harriers and peregrines on or medicated grit in terms of overnear grouse moors have not recovered use, risk to aquatic organisms from their current levels, then the in nearby water bodies, and shooting of grouse should be incorporation of harmful residues licensed. The civil burden of proof in the human food chain. For this Male golden plover in breeding (‘balance of probabilities’) rather than land management practice the review plumage. © Lorne Gill | SNH the criminal burden of proof (‘beyond all group recommended the introduction of reasonable doubt’) would provide the basis for a voluntary Code of Practice with compliance revoking such a licence. Given that the existing criminal monitored by SNH. offence has resulted in very few prosecutions, it is thought Should the Scottish Government accept these this should provide an effective deterrent for the future killing recommendations and introduce new regulation on the of raptors. management of grouse moors, their The group agreed that current management practices on biodiversity (especially grouse moors (notably muirburn and the legal control of in terms of raptors avian predators) provide good habitat for many waders and and mountain mountain hares – species strongly protected under UK law. hares) should be Rotational muirburn also has the benefit of promoting young significantly nutritious shoots for young grouse and reducing the fuel load enhanced in for wildfires. But poorly managed muirburn, which either the long term. burns down into the underlying peat or gets out of control, FURTHER READING

Scottish Government (2019) Report of the Grouse Moor Management Review Group ( Whitfield DP, Fielding AH (2017) Analyses of the fates of satellite-tracked Golden Eagles in Scotland (Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No 982, SNH) Mountain hare, Glenshee hills. © Lorne Gill | SNH


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Spring 2020

Monarch or menace? Peter Cairns, Director, Scotland: The Big Picture

In 1851 when artist Edwin Landseer depicted a royal stag against the majesty of the Highlands, he sealed a tradition of deer stalking that has changed little in two centuries. Today the barren uplands that cover much of Scotland’s wildest country remain emblematic of that romantic period. For many people, red deer and their treeless hunting ‘forests’ symbolise what Scotland looks like. Or rather, what Scotland should look like. With predators long gone, red deer have had plenty of time to proliferate. In 1959 numbers were estimated at 150,000. Sixty years later the population hovers around three times that number. Hungry mouths inevitably impact on emerging woodland, but also on the deer themselves. Forced to adapt to life on the open hill, Scotland’s deer are stunted, many a third smaller than their forest-dwelling cousins.

“Forests are emerging without the need for intrusive fencing, as long as grazing pressure is controlled.”

The ‘deer problem’ isn’t new, yet despite repeated calls for land managers to radically reduce densities, the numbers in many areas remain stubbornly high. As the ecological impact of overgrazing has become better understood, © Peter Cairns an ideological question governs a seemingly intractable debate: how many deer should there be? This is an argument not so much over our largest land mammal, but over different visions for the future of the Highlands. Enter stage left: the rewilder. Increasingly, large chunks of the Highlands are being managed, not as traditional sporting estates but for landscape-scale ecological restoration. At the forefront of this trend is Anders Holch Povlsen, a Danish entrepreneur, who bought the 42,000-acre Glenfeshie Estate ten years ago and now has custodianship over 200,000 acres, all badged under his company Wildland Ltd. Glenfeshie’s land was historically valued according to its sporting potential. Fencing was widely used to keep deer away from commercial forestry, but on the floor of the glen, remnant Scots pines retained a toehold in the shallow soils. At the turn of the millennium, environmental legislation ignited change in Glenfeshie and a significant deer cull took place. With a ready-made seed source from the veteran trees, a young forest quickly started to grow. Povlsen’s ambition to combine habitat restoration with benefits for local communities is a model that is now enticing other eco-philanthropists. Despite the huge size of these private estates, they are relative dots on the map,

but increasingly those dots are joining up. Established woodland regeneration schemes run by conservation groups and government agencies are creating a growing network of landholdings committed to new principles in land management. And, despite long-held perceptions, forests are emerging without the need for intrusive fencing, as long as grazing pressure is controlled. But what does that control look like? How many deer is too many? In Glenfeshie the forest sprung back to life with deer at around two per square kilometre. On some traditional estates, 40 animals per square kilometre is not unusual. Colin Murdoch is an experienced deer stalker on Scotland’s west coast and laments the large-scale culls that have taken place in recent years: “I hate what has become the ethnic cleansing of red deer.” Colin’s perspective is not uncommon amongst deer managers and, although his conviction reflects a deep affection for the animals that have shaped his life, it also reveals a resistance to a change that he sees as a threat rather than an opportunity. So does it all come down to numbers? At high densities deer will overwhelm regenerating saplings, leaving just older trees to die off. In the absence of natural predators, deer populations need managing and the expertise of professional deer stalkers is key to this, but the philosophy will need to move away from the emphasis on the trophy, to a more rounded hunting experience in an increasingly natural setting, in the company of a well-paid guide. The landscape of the Highlands is seductive. It is raw and, superficially at least, it is wild. Yet this land hides a history of ecological wounds that few people see. The potential for an ecologically richer future is stuck inside a cultural fence, one that has less to do with red deer and more to do with people and their belief systems. The deer problem, if it exists, is actually a people problem, 200 years in the making. © Peter Cairns

14 Spring 2020

Geodiversity: nature’s foundation Professor John Gordon, School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews

Geodiversity is an integral part of natural diversity, and in the face of human pressures and climate change, geodiversityinformed strategies will be critical to deliver nature conservation goals and ecosystem service benefits for people. These include sustainable solutions to challenges such as climate change adaptation and mitigation, disaster risk reduction, and providing food and water security. Geodiversity forms the foundation of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, which by definition comprise interacting biotic and abiotic components. Most habitats and species depend on the characteristics and properties of the underlying rocks, soils and landforms. Physical processes – such as soil formation, biogeochemical and water cycling, stream flows, erosion and sedimentation – drive key ecosystem functions, maintain ecosystem health, and support natural diversity. In many environments, high geodiversity favours high biodiversity. For example, mountain regions in the humid tropics support global centres of vascular plants, while at a more local scale, coastal landform complexes such as those at Morrich More and Culbin support dynamic mosaics of sand dune, dune slack and saltmarsh habitats. Also, many distinctive geological environments (eg, limestone pavements and caves) have specialised or unique biota adapted to the particular abiotic conditions. All these connections between geodiversity and biodiversity are reflected in the concept of ‘nature’s stage’; that the physical environment is a ‘stage’ that supports the actors, the species that are the principal target of biodiversity conservation. Climate change and sea level rise present significant challenges for nature conservation. A shift will be required from short-term preservation of prevailing species of interest to protecting areas with a high probability of harbouring high biodiversity in the future, although the species and communities may be different. The conservation of geodiverse landscapes should help to maintain opportunities for high biodiversity; in practical terms, this might include mapping geodiversity (eg, geology soils, landforms, topography, and geomorphological processes) to identify potential target areas that provide a range of topographic and environmental mosaics, corridors and refugia where species and communities might persist, adapt or relocate. Nature’s stage is not static. For example, increased flooding, slope failure, sediment supply, channel mobility and coastal erosion can all lead to both punctuated and gradual changes in the distributions of landforms, habitats and species. This may mean that protected area status may no longer be justified, site boundaries may need to be changed, or conservation targets may no longer be viable, although not all changes will necessarily be adverse. Geoconservation approaches also have a central role in the application of nature-based solutions. The conservation of organic soils, peatlands, and coastal and marine sediments, as significant carbon sinks, is an important component of climate change mitigation. Geoconservation is also integral to the prevention of land degradation through soil erosion and loss of water quality. And, solutions can help to reduce the vulnerability of human communities to natural hazards such as coastal erosion, flooding, landslides and soil erosion.

What does this mean? First, ‘conserving nature’s stage’ requires better integration of geodiversity in the design and management of protected areas. A more holistic approach would result in a system of protected areas that is more representative of a region’s natural diversity, incorporating the functional links between geology, soils, geomorphology and biodiversity, and hence provide a degree of resilience for biodiversity under a changing climate. Such a system would recognise wider landscape-scale connections, for example through water and sediment flows, and between sediment sources and sinks. Second, management of natural systems should involve ‘working with nature’. Solutions that work in sympathy with natural processes are more environmentally sustainable and effective than heavily engineered responses. Typical solutions may involve reconnecting rivers and their floodplains to enhance floodplain storage of floodwaters, restoring natural flow regimes, slowing water flow into rivers, maintaining sediment supply to beaches and saltmarshes, and managed realignment of the coast or use of ‘green infrastructure’ such as sand dunes, salt marshes or mangroves. Third, managing natural systems in a spatially integrated manner is essential to maintaining the connectivity of natural processes and landforms at a landscape scale, recognising that changes in one part of a system have knock-on effects elsewhere. Finally, learning from past changes can help to inform restoration and adaptive management through better appreciation of past ranges of variability and to inform possible future trajectories of change. For example, under a changing climate, knowledge of Holocene woodland dynamics and species compositions may be more useful in informing native woodland restoration than modern analogues. More holistic approaches that recognise the value of geodiversity, both in its own right and for its connections with biodiversity and people, would benefit nature conservation and the development of sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.

“Most habitats and species depend on the characteristics and properties of the underlying rocks, soils and landforms.”


Volume 29, Issue 3 of Conservation Biology includes a special section of papers on ‘Conserving Nature’s Stage’.


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Spring 2020

Geodiversity and the ecosystem approach Professor Murray Gray, Emeritus Professor, School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London

How does society benefit from nature? This may seem like a strange question but it’s one that nature conservationists have felt it necessary to address in recent years. This is because nature is under threat from development and other human activities, so knowing the value of nature should help to argue for its retention. More controversially, environmental economists have tried to quantify these benefits in financial terms. The overall concept, whether qualitative or quantitative, has become known as the ‘ecosystem services’ approach. Ecosystem services are the goods and services that society gains from nature, but as the name implies, it has been largely restricted to valuing living nature. For example, society benefits from nature through the food and medicines it provides, from the aesthetics and health benefits of being in woodlands or moorlands, and from the processes of insect pollination. However, as we geographers know, there is another half to nature, namely its non-living or abiotic half. After all, our planet is often described as the ‘third rock from the Sun’ and most of the landscapes we see today are the product of three influences – physical as well as biological and cultural. The concept of biodiversity is now well known and understood by the general public, but much less well known is the idea that we live on a geodiverse planet, whether the geodiversity involves the physical materials (rocks, sediments, soils), the landforms and topography, or the physical surface and sub-surface processes. Because of the overwhelmingly biocentric approach to ecosystem services, I have tried to outline the benefits that society gains from our geodiverse environment. There are several ways in which ecosystem services are classified, but one of the main ones, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, arranges them into four types: regulating, supporting, provisioning and cultural. I have added a fifth category of ‘knowledge services’ because of the benefits we gain, for example, from knowing about the history of our planet. Let’s start by looking at services associated with water. In terms of regulating services, we benefit from the ways in which rainfall is removed from the land by streams, rivers, infiltration and other drainage systems. As supporting services, water assists weathering and soil formation, it provides aquatic habitats for plants and animals, and it is stored in groundwater, aquifers, lakes and ice masses. In terms of provisioning services, freshwater is required by all living things, is used to produce beer, whisky and other drinks,

© Colin Woolf

and is the source of hydroelectric power. Culturally, people are attracted to views of lakes and rivers, as any estate agent will attest, while some rivers like the Ganges are regarded as sacred by local populations, and others have inspired musical compositions such as the River Vltava in Czechia which motivated Smetana to write his symphonic poem. Now looking at solid materials, one example of the value of geodiversity to society is the ubiquitous smartphone. It’s been calculated that these typically contain around 85% of the non-radioactive elements in the periodic table, all of which are extracted from the rocks of the Earth’s crust, and all of which play a different role in the phone. For example, silicon (microchip wafers), copper (circuitry), gold (contacts), lithium and cobalt (battery), aluminosilicate and indium tin oxide (touch screen). So, you can see that without geodiversity, smartphones would not exist.

“Our modern society simply could not exist without utilising the geodiversity of the planet.”

In terms of knowledge services, society benefits from scientific research on sites that inform us about the evolution of life on planet Earth, and about the events in the past that can help predict the future, such as the history of volcanic eruptions or past climate and sea-level changes. This gives us a strong motivation for conserving the important sites that yield the evidence for reconstructing past environments. So, our modern society simply could not exist without utilising the geodiversity of the planet. But sadly, most members of society are hardly aware of this fact, with biodiversity dominating so much media attention. The fact is that although some geodiversity benefits are renewable (eg, water), most of the services provided by geodiversity are not. The recent Circularity Gap Report 2020 showed that of the 100 billion tonnes of annual resource entering the global economy, over 75% is abiotic (minerals, ores, fossil fuels) and only 8.6% is recycled, down from 9.1% two years previously. We therefore have a responsibility to future generations to use the Earth’s resources more sustainably than we do at present.


Gray M (2012) Valuing geodiversity in an ‘ecosystem services’ context (Scottish Geographical Journal, Vol 128) De Wit M, Hoogzaad J, von Daniels C (2020) The Circularity Gap Report 2020 (Circle Economy, Amsterdam)

16 Spring 2020

Interview with Chris Packham Jo Woolf FRSGS, RSGS Writer-in-Residence

Chris Packham’s favourite habitat is woodland. Most humans, he tells me, prefer open areas – a throwback, apparently, to our origins on the plains of Africa, when we could spot prey and predators from a long distance away – but personally he would rather be enclosed by trees. From his home in the New Forest, he has travelled to Perth to give a talk to RSGS, and a couple of hours beforehand, in the Explorers’ Room of the Fair Maid’s House, he is chatting about lots of things: Scotland, birdwatching, wildlife conservation, fish farming, the climate crisis… and Tyrannosaurus rex. As a long-standing presenter of BBC’s Winterwatch, which is based in the Cairngorms, Chris has fond memories of visiting Scotland as a child. Inspired by the books of naturalist Lea McNally, he would keep an eager watch for wildcats, eagles and capercaillie from the back seat of his family’s Vauxhall Viva. Since then, he’s probed most corners of Scotland: favourite haunts include the Dornoch Firth, where, on a bleak January day, “with a strong onshore wind you’ll have longtailed ducks just off the shore,” and South Uist, first in May, when snipe, lapwing and redshank are breeding and the skies are filled with birdsong, and again in July, when the machair is ablaze with colour. But when pressed for a favourite place, he reluctantly opts for the Cairngorms, and the woodlands that are close to his heart: “In the last year we’ve been going to the Cairngorms to do Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch, and I’ve had an opportunity to walk under those granny pines again, and to caress their trunks, and to see them as the magnificent organisms that they are.” “Since 1970, when I got my first pair of binoculars, we’ve lost 90 million birds from the UK countryside. We’ve lost 40 or 50% of the world’s wildlife globally.” While Chris visits Scotland to enjoy the wildlife, he harbours serious worries about it. He points to the ongoing persecution of raptors on grouse moors. One-fifth of Scotland’s land, he says, is given over to driven grouse shooting, but “from the figures that we have, which are ambiguous, we think it’s worth just 0.04% of Scotland’s economy.” He would like to see more sustainable, walked-up grouse shooting, such as that practised on the Glenfeshie Estate: “I would argue that in the UK our singularly most impressive conservation project at this point is the Cairngorms Connect project, where Forestry and Land Scotland, SNH, RSPB and the Glenfeshie Estate under Anders Povlson have come together to represent, with a commonality of management practices, a long-term vision, community involvement and significant landscape management.” The overall approach, he says, is more compatible with eco-tourism and landscape resilience. “Times have changed – people need to change their minds and their practices.” Around Scotland’s west coast, open-cage salmon farming is causing serious concern among environmentalists. The damage to ecosystems could be avoided, says Chris, if the operators observed international standards. “Overseas, salmon farming can be profitable and generate jobs, but it can be done in a way which is far less environmentally damaging. In Norway the fish are effectively enclosed rather than open-caged. They are also fenced underwater, to prevent seals getting in.” Scotland lacks the necessary legislation to make such fencing mandatory, with disastrous results:

“People are still shooting seals around these things. There’s no ambiguity about it. We go to the shore and we see the animals with a bullet-hole through their head… it’s cheaper to kill them, and it’s cheaper to pollute the seas in a disastrous way and utterly ravage those eco-systems. We don’t any longer live in a time or a space where we can tolerate that, so we’re constantly lobbying for effective change.” Chris acknowledges that fish farming provides local jobs and is a major contributor to Scotland’s economy. “Figures are hard to come by, but it’s certainly in excess of a billion pounds a year. That still doesn’t provide us with a contemporary excuse for doing that at the expense of the environment. Short-termism is our greatest problem. Shortterm politics, short-term views from people who go on about the fact that they’re resistant to change because that would compromise them in some way. Well, turn your TV on and look at what’s happening north of Sydney. Look what’s happening in California. Look what’s happening in Indonesia.” While Chris actively supports national and global issues through petitions and campaigns, he believes that in the UK the climate crisis “is not biting us as hard in the bottom as it is in other parts of the world, and as a consequence people seem to think it’s not quite happening yet.” We are, he says, too cosy, and the human species, as intelligent, resourceful and adaptable as it is, seems to be better at cure than prevention. In an ideal world, “we could be listening to the scientists, listening to the people who have developed technologies that will address these issues, and getting on with it.” He expresses admiration for young climate strikers, who, he says, are being a lot less short-sighted. “They’ve realised that their very future is critically in peril, and rather than pull down the blinkers and carry on regardless, they’re saying we don’t have that option.” He describes his desperate sense of shame and guilt “that on my watch, since I’ve been

Stoat in ermine. © Olivier Combot


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aware of these issues, and should have been in a position to address them, we’ve failed.” “We use two more planets’ worth of resources than we can afford to in the UK, and if we were in the US we’d be using four more planets’ worth of resources. We are the principal consumers as humans, as organisms, in the world.” Chris believes that, individually, we all have the capacity and the responsibility to change our lives. The flight that he took to Edinburgh in order to get to Perth was his last internal flight: in future, he will travel by train. It will cost him more, and it may influence which jobs he takes and how he fulfils them, but he is prepared to make that change. While he has an electric car, he is keen to see greater subsidies to make them affordable for more people, alongside increased investment in charging points. He doesn’t expect everyone to make the same changes, but he encourages them to do what they can afford to do. Cleaner forms of energy mean a shift away from oil. “We know that we can’t stick with a carbon-based fuel system so we basically should stop looking for more oil and invest in a transition from petrochemicals to sustainable energies; and that should be happening now, like now, this afternoon, not at some stage in the future.” This will involve a major transition in terms of jobs, education and lifestyle, but “if we carry on regardless there won’t be any jobs, there won’t be any education, because there won’t be any hope.” On an entirely different topic, I mention Chris’s recent documentary about Tyrannosaurus rex. His lifelong obsession with dinosaurs took him to museums, scientific laboratories and palaeontological sites in his quest to discover not only what T rex looked like, but what it sounded like. The results had an eerily lifelike quality, but of course they are only speculation. Chris admits that the creature’s intangibility is

“Because he is so unflinching about his opinions, it’s easy to forget that behind his words is a sensitive person with acute powers of perception.”

the key to its enduring appeal, but he would still love to be whisked back 65 million years, with a pair of binoculars, to study them from a safe distance. And then what? With hindsight, I can’t help wondering whether he would find some way of alerting them to their impending doom and spurring them into concerted action. “My approach has always been forthright and relatively ferocious…” Chris speaks his mind with passion and clarity. Because he is so unflinching about his opinions, it’s easy to forget that behind his words is a sensitive person with acute powers of perception. When asked about the individuals who particularly inspire him, he gives credit first to the people who supported him through a difficult period in his mid-twenties; he feels indebted to them, and for this reason he is keen to invest in helping young people, particularly those who may be going through a tough time themselves. Professionally, he acknowledges broadcasters like Alan Whicker, John Freeman, Sir David Attenborough, Sir Patrick Moore and Bill Oddie: he is always captured by infectious enthusiasm, even if the topic isn’t directly related to his own interests. He likes people who get things done, “people who don’t care if they upset the apple-cart, because they know that it’s the right thing to do at that point in time.” I get the impression that along Chris’s own path, plenty of apple-carts lie in wait. For his services to nature conservation he was awarded a CBE in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List, but he is not about to rest on his laurels. When he encounters criticism or resistance, “in the vast majority of instances it spurs me on. I find it quite a compelling way to further motivate me to try harder.” At heart, however, he is optimistic. He is focused on solutions rather than problems, and he believes that we are reaching a point “whereby ethics and morality are becoming as important as the law in some instances.” As an example, he mentions youth climate strikers, who have found their own way of getting people in authority to listen. “There will never be room for any complacency and contentment in my life as a conservationist and an environmentalist… the fact that we will not give up is what provides that hope.”

18 Spring 2020

Nature is the solution Professor Roger Crofts CBE FRSGS, Chair, RSGS

It is somewhat ironic that those developing nature conservation in the middle of the 20th century took ‘nature’ into a narrow path focusing almost entirely on plants and animals and the ecological systems within which they existed. In the by-going, geodiversity played second fiddle at best, and people were too often regarded as the nuisance factor, forgetting the close association between people and nature. Nature was almost a forbidden word. It was no wonder that the organisation of nature conservation in Britain was radically changed.

role of RSGS through The Geographer, and the Inspiring People talks programme.

Fundamentally, recognising people as part of nature, and not just seeing them as ravagers of nature, is needed. We can learn from traditional knowledge in communities around the world, rather than ignoring it or just exploiting it for commercial gain. This means changing behaviours from the dominant anthropomorphic approach to one which embraces both the Rights of Nature (see the Earth Charter for example) and the Almost three decades Rights of Humans. on, it is refreshing that If we continue to ‘nature’ has become consume nature’s an accepted word in resources at the Walking in the woodlands at the Rumbling Brig. © Lorne Gill | SNH popular vocabulary. current rate, bearing For example, the in mind increasing population and increasing consumption International Union for Conservation of rates, we are undermining the fundamental Nature (IUCN) redefined protected areas human right of living in harmony with as being for nature, not just biodiversity. nature. Whole-system approaches were adopted,

“Nature is the solution if we have political and public recognition of its vital importance to the wellbeing of current and future generations.”

for example in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessments. More recently, the evolution of the sustainable development agenda is posited on the fundamental linkage between people, environment and economy. A plethora of erudite and thought-provoking books in the mid-1990s supports the case: titles such as Nature’s Services, Nature’s Keepers, Future Nature and Nature Contested. Now Scottish Natural Heritage is changing its name to NatureScot. Nature is a word that people understand and is more inclusive than biodiversity and geodiversity, for example. What do I mean ‘nature is the solution’? Put simply, it depends on how we value nature, how we include nature in decision making, and how we provide creative, multifaceted solutions. As a society, let’s measure our social progress not by GDP or levels of consumption, but by the wealth of nature and people: its soils, species, habitats, ecosystems and biomes, and the health of its people emotionally and mentally. The natural capital approach being adopted is an excellent way forward, but let’s hope that finance departments and company shareholders adopt it as well. Continuing investment in research to inform new approaches to looking after nature is vital. How otherwise can we make justifiable decisions on, for example, land management conundrums such as over-grazing, poor management practices in forestry and moorland management, and overintensification of farmland? Greater understanding of the Earth’s complex processes requires research endeavour across many disciplines, well beyond the traditional bio and geo sciences. Results need to be disseminated widely; a key

With Brexit, the government needs to ensure that key environmental concepts are enshrined in legislation as part of a new environmental act for Scotland’s future. Clear legislation, policies and regulation are needed to stamp out illegal or negative activities. For example, severe reduction of red deer numbers by promoting eating of healthy venison, licensing grouse moors to stamp out raptor persecution, and implementing the Scottish land stewardship principles, are all essential as an ethical way forward. More fundamental is the need to develop a Land Restoration Scheme, to replace the outmoded Common Agricultural Policy and the Single Farm Payment, based on farmers’ care for the natural assets of their land, and to reward good practices. As Dieter Helm, the Oxford economist and chair of the UK Natural Capital Committee, says, “there is a choice: we can impoverish ourselves by continuing down the current path or we can halt the devastation and work to rescue and revitalise the nature we have left. We can, and should, have a greener and more prosperous future.” Nature is the solution if we have political and public recognition of its vital importance to the wellbeing of current and future generations. It is a moral imperative which society cannot ignore any longer. We should learn from and work with nature rather than think we can defeat it. This approach means that we need the best science, excellent dissemination of the results, education systems at all levels that open the eyes and minds of all to their natural surroundings. And it means that governments individually and collectively must take responsibility by ensuring that policy, legislation and regulation are established and enforced in creative ways to enable new partnerships of people and business, communities and experts to thrive.


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Nature-based solutions Nigel Dudley, Equilibrium Research

Whenever heavy rainfall coincides with a high tide in the estuary, the river in my valley floods over low-lying fields. This happens several times a year and the farmers have developed a fine sense of timing, so that they move animals just before the water rises. The valley is a mixture of nature reserves and grazing land, with settlements on higher ground. If the river was protected by levees the flooding would simply move downstream, and if anyone had built in the valley bottom the council would be struggling to contain the water. Which is what happened the next valley over and is costing the taxpayer a great deal of money. By providing space for excess water, our valley serves as an ecosystem service. But only a handful of people interpret it that way. This is a classic demonstration of one of the main challenges in promoting ecosystem services: most people only notice them when they disappear.

mitigation of climate change through carbon storage, both by maintaining existing carbon stocks in soils and vegetation, and by restoring vegetation and healthy soils for additional carbon capture. Importantly, recognition of nature-based solutions can help raise funds for their maintenance, such as Payments for Ecosystem Services schemes whereby people benefiting from an ecosystem pay a fee to people maintaining that service. Water payment schemes and REDD+ are two well-known examples.

The concept of ‘nature-based solutions’ seeks to recognise and utilise ecosystem services to address societal needs. The IUCN defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems, which address societal challenges (eg, climate change, food and water security, or natural disasters) effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human wellbeing and biodiversity benefits.” ‘Nature-based solutions’ is therefore an umbrella term for many types of ecosystem management that provide both biodiversity conservation and human benefits, ranging from protected areas (such as national parks and nature reserves) through various forms of sustainable management to ecosystem restoration.

IUCN recognises three main types of nature-based solutions. 1. Using existing natural ecosystems, for example increasing fish stocks in intact wetlands by protecting spawning grounds to enhance local food security. Here judicious application of protected areas is probably the main tool. 2. Application of sustainable management protocols or procedures for managed or restored ecosystems. Examples might be restoration of forests on steep slopes to protect communities from avalanches or landslides, or re-establishment of traditional agro-forestry systems to support poverty alleviation. 3. The most original approach involves creating new ecosystems, such as green walls or green roofs as a way of cooling buildings and producing food. As mentioned, nature-based solutions can sometimes usefully be combined with engineering or other artificial solutions; this doesn’t need to be either/or.

Although there is a very wide array of ecosystem services, some things stand out. Water security is particularly important, with watersheds in natural ecosystems generally supplying much purer water than those flowing through agricultural or industrial land. In some cases (particularly tropical cloud forests) these ecosystems also increase net water flow. This is not trivial; a third of the world’s largest hundred cities draw a significant amount of drinking water from protected areas. Nature-based solutions also contribute to food security, for example through the management of wild fish stocks or by conserving crop wild relatives to help agronomists develop new strains of crop species, increasingly needed under climate change. Natural environments and green space supply important health benefits by providing safe places for exercise, because of their positive impacts on mental health, and by preserving local medicine species and the genetic raw materials used in pharmaceutical development. Natural ecosystems deliver a range of disaster risk reduction benefits, like flood defence, along with protecting slopes against land or snow slippage, coastal protection against storms and sea-level rise, and stabilisation of drylands to reduce erosion, dust storms and desertification. Hybrid approaches to risk reduction are sometimes possible, for example restoring a belt of coastal mangroves as a protective shield against storms, but including a landward seawall as extra insurance. And naturebased solutions are playing an increasing role in

“‘Nature-based solutions’ is an umbrella term for many types of ecosystem management that provide both biodiversity conservation and human benefits.”

Nature-based solutions work in many situations, but we need to be careful not to over-claim. There is good evidence that shoreline mangroves will protect against many storms and tsunamis but not all; like seawalls, they will sometimes be overwhelmed. Marine protected areas will rebuild fish stocks and fish will spill over into areas used by fisherfolk, but if the offtake is too large, populations will continue to decline. Each case needs to be looked at on its own merits and decisions made on best evidence: sometimes nature will be the best solution, and at other times alternatives will be required instead of, or as well as, nature-based solutions. And, as stated above, it is critically important that people recognise the value of these nature-based solutions; experience shows that unacknowledged benefits are amongst those most likely to be lost. Natural flood management in the Dyfi Valley, west Wales.

20 Spring 2020

Mapping the risk of soil erosion in Scotland Dr Allan Lilly, James Hutton Institute

Soil erosion is a natural process by which soil particles become detached and are transported by our rivers and streams to the sea. Indeed, it was the observation of sediment in stream water that led James Hutton to develop his views on the age of the Earth and the natural process of erosion and rock formation over geological timescales. However, accelerated soil erosion, caused by inappropriate land use or land management, is a global issue that affects our ability to manage our soils sustainably and to feed a growing population. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations estimated that a third of the world’s soils are already degraded. While much of this degradation is found in low-income countries, Scotland is not immune to the adverse effects of soil erosion. The sustainable management of our soil resource is threatened from increased agricultural intensification and a changing climate. Extreme rainfall events such as Storm Frank in 2016 are predicted to become more frequent, and a recent report from the Met Office Hadley Centre suggested there is a 34% chance of rainfall records being broken somewhere in the UK each winter. These rainfall events can cause widespread erosion on unprotected or damaged soils, leading to increased flood risk, loss of soil nutrients and carbon, reduction in crop growth, a loss of soil biodiversity, exposure of archaeological sites, and the pollution of our rivers and streams through an influx of nutrient-rich sediment.

“The sustainable management of our soil resource is threatened from increased agricultural intensification and a changing climate.”

Other land management practices can lead to soil erosion. Normal ‘inversion’ ploughing can cause soil to be gradually moved downslope, exposing subsoil and potentially damaging buried archaeological remains. As well as soil erosion by overland flow, some parts of Scotland are vulnerable to erosion by wind. Some of our iconic landscapes, such as the machair with sandy soils that have low concentrations of organic matter, can be particularly susceptible to wind erosion, as are parts of Morayshire where snow ploughs have had to be used in spring to clear roads of wind-blown sediment. Complementing the new map-based planning of land management, field studies are being undertaken to assess the benefits of on-the-ground practices that can minimise soil erosion. Examples of this research are the use of ‘very flexible’ low ground pressure tyres that can reduce sediment and nutrient losses from tramlines by up to 75%, and the use of cover crops and novel tillage methods which help bind the soil and maintain a soil structure that is more resilient to erosion and helps increase soil biodiversity. Soil erosion in Scotland due to traditional cultivation practices is not on the same scale as in some parts of the world. Measures are being put in place to mitigate its effects, but we should not be complacent if we want to conserve the soil and the carbon, nutrients and biodiversity it holds for future generations.

There is a growing body of evidence that can be used to assess the susceptibility of soils to erosion and to identify the land uses which are most ‘at risk’. Scientists at the James Hutton Institute developed a simple rule-based assessment of the risk of soil erosion based on slope, and soil characteristics such as the ability to absorb rainfall and soil texture. They applied these rules to digitised versions of the 1:25,000 (where available) and 1:250,000 (for the remaining areas) scale soil maps. The maps show the likelihood of soils to erode. The large-scale maps are freely available to view and download on the Scotland’s Soils website (soils.environment. so that land managers can take account of such risks when planning cultivation and crop rotations. Increased mechanisation has brought many benefits to farmers and consumers through the production of the high-quality, relatively cheap food we eat. However, common practices such as the creation of ‘tramlines’, often seen running up and down slopes in arable fields, can provide pathways for water to gather, leading to increased run-off, erosion, and nutrient loss, such as phosphate. The production of fine seedbeds (particularly associated with high-value crops) means that the soil has smaller aggregates that can be more easily picked up in run-off, and more readily washed downslope or blown away in strong winds. The underlying susceptibility of soils to erosion, as shown in the map, is being modified to take account of such land management practices, for use when land managers are planning which crops to grow and where.

Map of soil erosion risk classes.


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Delivering a nature-rich future Roddy Fairley, Area Manager for South Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage

There has been an increasing focus on land use and environment over the past year. In April 2019, for example, Scotland became one of the first countries to declare a climate emergency. In May 2019, IPBES published its Global Assessment Report, making plain the crisis confronting biodiversity, and its causes. And in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that land use was the source of around a quarter of greenhouse gases. In October, the State of Nature Reports for Scotland and the rest of the UK reinforced growing concerns about nature in peril. And in January 2020, the UK Committee on Climate Change detailed land use policy options for reducing emissions from UK land use by 64% by 2050.

rich future is as dramatic as phasing out fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energy. Even without a climate emergency, the range of benefits from a nature-rich future is so desirable and far-reaching as to make one wonder why these have not been at the heart of public policy and action.

“The range of benefits from a nature-rich future is so desirable and farreaching as to make one wonder why these have not been at the heart of public policy and action.”

This increasingly high-profile crisis arises from our exploitation of nature. Enduring solutions can only be found by working with and for nature: a nature-rich future, not just because that might be ‘nice’, but because it is an essential part of preventing further damaging climate change with all the consequences it would have for our economy, health and wellbeing. Nature-based solutions to the climate emergency are growing in common parlance and are important. Naturerich solutions are even better, dependant on enhancing the diversity, richness and resilience of species and habitats in meeting our goal of global sustainability. New land use practices can help prevent greenhouse gas generation, restore natural carbon stores, and sustain efficient carbon cycling. They can also prevent further decline in nature and reverse past trends in wildlife declines. And, they can mitigate the impacts of climate change already upon us. In a nutshell, changed land use provides the nature-rich solutions we need: • rebuilding carbon stores in soil (also reduces incidence of drought, increases fertility, and helps reduce flood peaks); • restoring damaged peatlands (stopping high carbon losses); • increasing diversity in woodland cover; • realigning coasts to establish saltmarsh and wetlands as a new protective zone; • developing natural flood management with river course restoration, riparian planting, and more wetlands; • adopting natural alternatives to agricultural sprays and fertilisers; • rebalancing our agriculture towards more sustainable outputs by rebalancing our diets towards more plant-based foods; and • enhancing the green infrastructure in and around our towns and cities. The challenge of adopting these beguilingly simple things is enormous. This is not just for special places. This needs to be rolled out over the entire landscape. We cannot be half-hearted. There is an urgent need for ‘close to nature’ or ‘nature orientated’ forestry, and away from short rotation monoculture. Otherwise, diversity and disease resilience will decline. Repeated disturbance weakens woodland’s capacity to sequester carbon. Bringing in new forms of agriculture and forestry that contribute to a nature-

Health researchers have discovered that it is damaging to our physical and mental health if we live with no green space or woodland nearby. The prevalence of diabetes, asthma and heart disease can be as much as 25% higher in impoverished nature settings, and the statistics relating to mental health are even more dramatic. Perhaps most telling of all are the greatest differences among young people; bringing up children detached from nature is akin to living in a loveless family. It is widely recognised, too, that diets with higher proportions of plant-based food similarly reduce the incidence of many of the diseases currently at epidemic levels. This too would be a necessary consequence of agriculture and forestry making room for nature. Even the market can at times show how we need nature. Properties adjacent to rich natural surroundings command a premium price to others. There is growing evidence, too, that educational attainment is enhanced when learning is taken outdoors into rich nature. Education in the natural world can also contribute to enhanced behaviour and decreases in rates of school exclusions. In Finland, a world leader in educational attainment, outdoor learning in schools is compulsory. The richness of nature really matters. It needs to be recognised as part of the solution to the big problems of our time: how to live more sustainably, how to reduce ill health, how to restrict climate change, how to enhance educational attainment, and even how to reduce antisocial behaviour and crime. Losing nature not only deprives us of wellbeing, it deprives us of healthy livelihoods. And, as we see through the threat of catastrophic climate heating, it can diminish life itself. If we nurture nature, it will nurture us. Scotland may be small globally (just over 1% of global carbon emissions), but through pioneering new techniques and collaborative management of the land, coast and sea, we can be world leaders.

Bogbean growing in a peatland lochan, Flow Country. © Lorne Gill | SNH

22 Spring 2020

Annie Armstrong’s art

print of human evolution

Š Greenpeace


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24 Spring 2020

Interview with Mark Carney OC FRSGS Mike Robinson, Chief Executive, RSGS

In November 2019, we were delighted to have the opportunity to ask Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, for his thoughts about the risks and opportunities that climate change presents to businesses and the economy. Why is it important that businesses understand climate change and how it will impact them? Let’s start from the beginning. The objective of Scotland is to get to a net zero carbon economy by 2045. The objective of the United Kingdom is a little later: a net zero carbon economy by 2050. The objective of the world is to stabilise temperatures below two degrees. Those are huge undertakings, vital undertakings, but if our economy is going to move in that direction, it means that virtually every business is going to need to adjust. For some businesses, it’s going to require pretty substantial reductions in their carbon footprint: changes to industrial processes, changes to their products, their services and perhaps their customer base. For others, it’s going to bring great opportunities. This is one of the biggest structural changes that any of us will see in our professional lifetimes. It is not only important; it is all-encompassing. And so every business is going to have to ask themselves, and should be asking themselves, how will climate change affect my business today, tomorrow, in the decades ahead, and what am I doing about it? What am I doing to adjust? Not only to the physical effects of climate change, but most importantly, and most positively, how am I adjusting to be a part of this solution which is to move the Scottish economy, the UK economy and, with time, the global economy to net zero? How is climate change likely to affect the financial system? We think at the Bank of England that virtually every financial asset will be affected by climate change, and it’s important, when thinking about that, to differentiate between the types of impacts of climate change. There are, of course, physical effects, physical risks from climate change: think of extreme weather events, extreme flooding, storms, fires, other aspects, that can damage property, can disrupt supply chains, can affect business and trading conditions. But that’s just the physical risks. The other type of risks – and, I would underscore, opportunities – that come from climate change, is part of this transition to a net zero economy. That transition is going to require changes in carbon prices, changes in government regulation, government grants and subsidies for greener activities, but also regulation of ‘browner’ activities. And it also will involve some pretty exciting technological developments. All of these will change the economics of business activities, whether you’re in the goods sector, in the service sector, in agriculture, technology and beyond.

carbon footprint or take advantage of opportunities in a lower carbon economy. The second thing that particularly the banking sector needs is to think about risk management – its lending book, its loan book – in that context. So, if we consider a loan that is good under a high carbon environment today, how will that loan – that company, and the loan to it – look in a low carbon environment? And what the Bank of England is doing is stress testing. It has just launched stress testing of banks, including the major Scottish banks, RBS in particular, about how they are going to manage this transition and how their loan books will look in the coming decades given the objectives in Scotland and the United Kingdom. The third thing we can do is to help out with the investors’ side as they look at the risks and the opportunities again from this transition. What are the assets that back those investments or insurance policies? What do those assets look like? Are those assets consistent with the objectives of Scotland? In other words, are they invested in businesses that are managing down to a net zero? Or are they still invested in activities that are not consistent with that? How will climate change affect investment over the next two decades?

“The first thing is making it a priority, and the appropriate seniority of the organisation focused on it.”

Climate change is going to be central to the investment thesis of virtually every investment. So, we think that each investment will have to take into account the potential impacts of climate change and decide accordingly. There will be specialist markets that focus on the most green activities.

So let’s think about some of the investment opportunities. We think about £20 billion per year will be required in UK infrastructure for proceeding decades. Globally, the aggregate figure for now until the end of 2040 is around £90 trillion. So there’s enormous investment opportunities in infrastructure, including energy infrastructure alone. But I come back to a basic point, which is that we think if this transition is going to truly happen, it is going to be part of every single investment decision. And that means that it’s absolutely at the mainstream, at the heart, of financial decision making. From your perspective, what do you think leaders and managers need to know about climate change, and what should they be doing?

With the UK net zero targets, how can the Bank of England help play a role in delivering against these? And how can markets help achieve these targets?

The first thing is that climate change is one of the biggest structural shifts in the economy. It ranks up with everything else put together as part of the so-called fourth industrial revolution. So each business is going to need a strategy on how it’s going to respond, how it’s going to contribute to this transition to a net zero carbon economy, and how it’s going to take advantage of the opportunities created.

The financial markets need a few things, and that’s where the Bank of England can help. The first is that they need information: they need disclosure from companies, not just about their carbon footprints today (in many respects that’s the easy bit) but what does the management of a business plan to do about it in the coming years, to manage down that

So the first thing to do as business leaders is to have that as part of the responsibility of the CEO: have Board-level responsibility for overseeing the transition. You can judge yourselves how you want to design your compensation, but certainly within the financial sector we increasingly expect that some of the risk-based compensation of the most


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senior managers will be tied to performance in terms of the response to climate change. So the first thing is making it a priority, and the appropriate seniority of the organisation focused on it. And then the second is to recognise, and anticipate, what will be required from the overall business operating environment in Scotland, the UK, and the world, if we are truly going to move towards a net zero economy. Anticipate where the price on carbon may need to go. Anticipate which activities will be favoured and which will be penalised by regulation, by government action, as the economy shifts from where we are today to where we need to get to tomorrow. And then adjust business accordingly. And then, of course, as business people, you get up every day and you think about how you can serve your clients, your stakeholders – whether your suppliers, your employees, your communities – and think about what they want, what the impact is on them, and anticipate where they are going. It is likely that, in a series of industries, there are going to be fairly quick and potentially sizeable shifts in consumer attitudes around these issues. We’ve already seen some around diesel cars, for example, around plastics, around different types of food choices. The financial markets will be there to help with that transition. And the Bank of England will be there behind those financial markets and those financial institutions, to make sure they are there for you, as you lead us forward.

“Climate change is one of the biggest structural shifts in the economy. Each business is going to need a strategy on how it’s going to respond, how it’s going to contribute to this transition to a net zero carbon economy, and how it’s going to take advantage of the opportunities created.” These are just some of the thought-provoking words provided by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, before he received Honorary Fellowship from us in November, in recognition of his being a voice of reason in a time of uncertainty, and one of the most trusted, reliable and authoritative voices on the economy and financial aspects of climate change. To hear our recorded interview with him, which will be included in our upcoming Climate Solutions qualification, please visit

26 Spring 2020

The energy transition to net zero Deirdre Michie OBE, Chief Executive, Oil & Gas UK

A recent report by the Citizens Advice Bureau in Scotland found that a rising number of consumers – more than one in ten – are struggling to pay their energy bills. The same report showed a drop in people using electricity to heat their homes, with nearly 75% relying on more affordable mains gas as their primary source of heat. This is just one example of a global paradox where growing demand for energy sits alongside the need for reduced emissions. Our ability to deliver this at pace, without compromising quality of life or disproportionately affecting the most disadvantaged in our society, will determine if these changes will be supported, sustained, and at the same time, prevent irreversible environmental damage.

while supporting other sectors to decarbonise, and investing across a diverse energy mix. At the beginning of this year we set out, on behalf of the UK offshore oil and gas industry, Roadmap 2035: offering a blueprint for a fair, inclusive and sustainable transition to a net zero carbon economy. With 60 actions over five key areas, it shows how this sector can continue to provide the affordable and secure energy the UK needs while helping develop the solutions which will be required to decarbonise the economy at scale and at pace.

“This is a sector which has the opportunity to earn its place in the new energy world by mobilising our skills, infrastructure and expertise.”

Finding solutions to complex problems has long been the bread and butter of the UK’s oil and gas industry. While all industries, businesses and individuals look to get to grips with delivering the destination of net zero emissions by 2050 in the UK and 2045 in Scotland, this is a sector which has the opportunity to earn its place in the new energy world by mobilising our skills, infrastructure and expertise.

Over its 50 year history, the sector has been the engine of our economy, providing the affordable energy and industrial products we use for everyday lives, contributing more than £135 million each week to public services through production taxes alone, and today supporting some 270,000 jobs the length and breadth of the UK. As the leading representative body for the sector, Oil & Gas UK is proud to champion over 400 companies from majors to big contractors to SMEs, all renowned globally for their expertise operating in some of harshest environments on the planet. With the Committee on Climate Change report showing a continued need for oil and gas even in a net zero context, it is clear this industry will need to contribute to the future. Industry is already stepping up, reducing our own emissions,

As a sector we are already committed to deliver a net zero carbon emissions basin by 2050, reducing the emissions from the operational production of oil and gas through new technologies, more efficient ways of working, and switching to electricity instead of diesel for power generation. Later this year we’ll publish a plan setting out how we propose to get there, including clear reduction targets for what currently represents 3% of the UK’s total emissions. Secondly, the development of carbon capture usage and storage at scale is another example of where we can put our skills to work to help the wider UK economy to deliver its net zero ambitions. Roadmap 2035 also provides a framework for how we move forward across other areas: from the people and skills we will need to drive the transition, to how we can grow our economy with a world-class supply chain capturing a greater share of global exports, to the technology we can unlock and then export across the world in support of the changing energy landscape. Delivery of Roadmap 2035 will help ensure a transition that is fair to consumers and supports the communities most impacted. In this way, this important industry and the people and communities it supports can be a positive enabler for the energy transition while ensuring a fair and affordable path to net zero for the wider UK economy.


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Spring 2020

Bravo net zero? Professor Dave Reay FRSGS, Chair in Carbon Management and Executive Director of Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, University of Edinburgh ‘Net zero’ is a term that is seemingly everywhere at the moment. In its essence it describes a future where we do everything possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions but still have some emissions that are unavoidable – such as from food production – and so then have to soak up these residual emissions to reach a balance of our ongoing inputs to the atmosphere and what we draw down from it.

on everyone’s assumption that they were a special case.

Net zero has become a hugely important term in discussions on climate action, from individual organisations, through cities and states, right up to the global scale. Inevitably though, it has its complications.

For the 2050s and beyond, it is hoped that emerging technologies like Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS) – where CO2 is chemically trapped from the air, concentrated, and piped to geological stores – will increasingly provide the balance to unavoidable emissions. In the meantime, the focus is firmly on trees, and a rapid expansion in woodland cover in the coming decades.

In theory the new Climate Change Acts and their net zero targets mean that the comforting emissions buffer has gone, but now of course there’s the real danger that the ‘net’ in net zero becomes another magic carpet under which to sweep weak mitigation actions and entirely avoidable ‘unavoidable emissions’.

“Net zero has become a hugely important term in discussions on climate action. Inevitably though, it has its complications.”

In Scotland we have a net zero target of 2045, with the UKwide target being 2050. Both refer to net zero greenhouse gas emissions (net zero GHG), so include methane, nitrous oxide and other powerful greenhouse gases, as well as carbon dioxide (CO2). Globally the push is also for ‘net zero’ by the middle of the century, but here the 2050 focus is on ‘net zero CO2’ rather than hitting the net zero balance for all greenhouse gases. Worldwide, net zero CO2 by the middle of the century gives us an evens chance of hitting the Paris Climate Goals and so avoiding more than a 1.5 degree increase in global average temperatures (we’re already at >1 degree of heating compared to the pre-industrial baseline). As most developing countries have less ability to cut emissions as rapidly as developed nations, it follows that developed nations like Scotland and the UK should go beyond net zero CO2 by 2050 and either achieve this target much earlier and/or deliver net zero for all GHGs by this date. For the global emissions account, such concerted early action by developed nations could then provide the development headspace needed in the rest of the world. All nations would still have to hit net zero GHGs in the second half of the century to keep that 50:50 chance of achieving the Paris Climate Goals alive.

Tree planting, soil carbon enhancement, peatland restoration and other so-called ‘nature-based solutions’ certainly have an important part to play in achieving net zero in Scotland and the UK. Yet our finite land surface is already asked to meet a swathe of demands, not least providing the food we need. The danger is that we assume land use gives us a handy ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card when it comes to making far-reaching cuts in our own emissions. It doesn’t. The truth behind net zero is that we have to do everything possible. It is not ‘decarbonise the power sector OR reduce aviation emissions’. It is not ‘revolutionise home heating OR plant trees’. It is ‘AND, AND, AND…’. By cutting emissions across every sector and activity AND protecting and enhancing natural carbon sinks AND investing in emerging technologies like DACCS, we give ourselves and future generations a fighting chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. The net zero narrative is here to stay. Now we need to turn its story into reality.

The net zero approach is certainly not without its critics. Some have called for gross or absolute zero, where all greenhouse gas emissions, everywhere, are stopped. This is theoretically possible for some activities and maybe even whole sectors; renewable power generation coupled with effective storage and multinational distribution networks could get the carbon intensity of UK electricity down to near zero, for instance. However, there’s no way (yet) to achieve this complete zero emissions transition in other important areas, such as food production or long-haul aviation. These so-called ‘unavoidable’ or ‘residual’ emissions are real and must be balanced by enhanced drawdown, but they open the door to a whole load of familiar protectionist ruses. Both the UK Climate Change Act in 2008 and Climate Change (Scotland) Act in 2009 set a target of an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to 1990. Here, the 20% residual was intended to cover the really hard or impossible-to-mitigate sources (due to extremely high costs, social and technological barriers, for instance). Naturally, every sector quickly identified areas of its own that should be included in this 20% allowance; it represented a nice buffer that allowed business-as-usual practices to continue, based

Oystercatcher. © Lorne Gill | SNH

Follow Professor Reay on Twitter @keelingcurve.

28 Spring 2020

Climate change and our future land Mike Rivington, Land System Modeller, James Hutton Institute

Envisioning the future is something most people would like to do. With computer simulation modelling and data detailing many aspects of how the world works, we can explore alternative futures and develop improved understanding of the consequences of decisions and actions. With the current climate and ecological crisis, modelling capabilities are becoming increasingly important. Envisioning plausible futures with the ‘science of foresight’ enables better understanding of risks, uncertainties and opportunities, and there are now several models, from molecular to global scales, to choose from. Climate models provide insights to future weather conditions and consequences for all aspects of life. Crop models inform us of potential future yields and food security, and how new crop varieties and land management systems may help mitigate impacts or realise opportunities. Ecological and species population models help understanding of how natural systems may respond to different drivers. Epidemiological models help predict risks of disease spread. Agent-based modelling enables the exploration of individual, community or societal behaviour responses. And with visualisation tools we can assist public interpretation of future land uses.

carbon content capacity, leaving room for some additional sequestration. When combined with the challenges of multiple land use objectives, this foresight information helps identify what the balance may be between what is desirable to meet the current challenges, and what is feasible under future climatic conditions. A further dimension to the problem is international, as Scotland’s land use challenges cannot be taken in isolation. For example, the future LCA estimates imply an area of grassland has the potential to become arable, but ploughing up grassland releases a lot of CO2. Crop growth requires fertilisers that are energy intensive to produce, with associated emissions of CO2. Fertiliser use leads to nitrous oxide emissions: N2O is 298 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Crops assimilate CO2 and convert to biomass that can be incorporated into the soil as organic matter and thus store carbon, can help soil moisture retention, or can be used to produce energy instead of fossil fuels. Livestock that used to graze the grassland emitted methane (25 times more potent than CO2 but shorter-lived in the atmosphere) and have gone to market and not been replaced. Meanwhile, the demand for beef remains, so it is imported and produced on land that had formerly been pristine rainforest that had captured CO2 and helped drive the global water cycle.

“Increasingly, land is required to provide multiple benefits to society.”

Increasingly, land is required to provide multiple benefits to society: food and fibre, amenity value, the provision of good quality water in sufficient quantity, biodiversity, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions and carbon capture and storage. Climate change and the ecological crisis present levels of complexity necessitating a redefinition of what sustainable land use means. Solutions are contentious as they imply some interests may be required to change. For example, the Scottish Government aims for net zero carbon emissions by 2045. Land-based sectors can reduce emissions (agriculture) and capture carbon (forestry, peatland restoration and conservation). In some places, this will require significant changes to what land is used for.

So, what’s the best thing to do with the grassland? Plant it with trees or mixed forestry and agriculture or different grass management? Models themselves do not provide the answers, but they do help frame the problem and the integration of multiple factors. There is an increasing need for such modelling and analytical skills to help inform decision making based upon evidence, to be taken into account alongside economic and political reasoning.

The Committee on Climate Change suggests one fifth of land changes its use to facilitate an increase in carbon sequestration. There are calls to greatly reduce meat consumption due to the associated CO2 and methane emissions. Therefore, we need to understand the complex trade-offs between benefits, costs and consequences of land use change. Due to the impacts of climate change and the need for immediate mitigation, this is also a time-dynamic problem, with the capability of our land for various uses also changing with the climate. The Land Capability for Agriculture classification system (LCA) identifies the potential for production using soils, climate and vegetation data. A future LCA indicates that an easing of climatic constraints means arable agriculture may expand into grassland areas. However, physical constraints, such as soil type and depth, may limit such expansion. Crop modelling of barley indicates the potential for increases in average yield between 2030 and 2060. However, there are also prospects of greater variability in yield due to water limitations. Many soils are below their realisable

The Land Capability for Agriculture (left), and as adapted for projections of climate 2050 (right).

See for more information.


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Spring 2020

Delivering on net zero Dr Sheila George, Food & Environment Policy Manager, WWF Scotland

The last 12 months have brought a huge growing awareness of climate change and the role that land use can play in helping us rise to the challenge. Since the First Minister declared a climate emergency in April 2019, the focus has moved to identifying an appropriate emergency response across all sectors of society, including agriculture. WWF’s new report, Delivering on Net Zero: Scottish Agriculture, suggests that agriculture could cut emissions by over a third by 2045. Farming is a dominant land use in Scotland, influencing how we use threequarters of it, and interacts with climate change in three key ways.

The new report highlights that a reduction of 38% in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture is achievable by 2045. There is also potential to exceed this figure with higher uptake of measures. Building on previous work by Scotland’s Rural College and others, and involving extensive engagement with industry experts, the report evaluated 37 different measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The most promising measures include: • r educing nitrogen fertiliser use through precision application techniques and a reduction in synthetic nitrogen; •u se of legumes (eg, clover, peas, beans) as break crops in rotation with arable crops, using their natural nitrogen-fixing properties to further reduce nitrogen use; •u sing legumes in grassland, combined with rotational grazing in diverse-species grassland; •u se of feed additives, which have the potential to reduce methane emissions during digestion; • i mproved animal health and breeding practices to improve efficiency and yields, improved growth rates, fertility and feed conversion rates, alongside reduced mortality; •c onversion to organic farming, through removal of synthetic fertilisers, improved soil health, more extensive livestock and cropping systems; •a groforestry (integrating trees within arable or livestock systems) can significantly improve carbon sequestration alongside better utilisation of water, soil and sunlight.

“A reduction of 38% in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture is achievable by 2045.”

First, farmers are at the front line of the extreme and unpredictable weather that a changing climate brings. Over the last few years, we’ve already seen the impact of extremely wet winters, prolonged snow cover and drought conditions on sowing and harvesting crops, crop yields, feed costs and livestock health.

Second, farming produces greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, which contribute to climate change. While some emissions are unavoidable in food production, there is room for improvement, and emissions reductions from agriculture, as with all other sectors, will be necessary. And third, as managers of the land, farmers have a critical role to play in helping us respond to climate change. Grass, crops and farm woodland help remove carbon from the atmosphere and lock it up in the soil. Here, Scotland has a particular natural advantage because carbon-rich peat soils cover 25% of the land. In fact, 60% of the UK’s peatlands are found in Scotland. But the ability of soils to store carbon is affected by how they are managed: if soils are disturbed they can become a source of further emissions, releasing that stored carbon into the atmosphere. Last year, Vivid Economics reported that agriculture would need to reduce emissions by at least 35%, alongside dramatic cuts across other sectors, if Scotland is to meet net zero by 2045. In a bid to better understand the package of measures that may be required to secure these reductions, we commissioned a follow-up piece of research by Organic Policy, Business and Research Consultancy.

In addition to securing much-needed emissions reductions, many of these measures also improve efficiency, reduce waste and improve productivity. Some of the system-level changes, like agroforestry, can build resilience, helping farmers adapt and respond more readily to climate change. The Scottish Government’s recently launched £40 million Agriculture Transformation Programme will help in the immediate term to ensure farmers take up these measures, supporting them to produce food in a way that reduces emissions and locks up more carbon. In the longer term, as we look to develop a system of rural support to replace the EU Common Agriculture Policy, we must ensure that new regulation, advice and financial support are aligned to facilitate the transition towards net zero. In this way, Scotland could be at the forefront of the global transition to climatefriendly farming.

Wild grasses and ripening barley, Wolfhill, Perthshire. © Lorne Gill | SNH

30 Spring 2020

Meteora World Heritage Site.

Ioannina at night.

Meteora at dawn.

Over the rooftops of Levidi.


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Spring 2020

Greece lightning: a fast pedal from Kalamata to Corfu James Cave, Communications Officer, RSGS

Along with an old university friend, our grand plan was to cycle from the south coast of the Peloponnese to Corfu, just shy of the Albanian border. It was to discover the real Greece, meet the locals, and avoid at all costs the tacky tourist traps that do the country such a disservice. And for my companion Oliver, it was to discover his cycling legs, as his first day in Greece would only be his second ever in the saddle!

Just near Greece’s largest natural lake, Lake Trichonida, however, our bikes began to fail us, the wheels struggling under the weight of our panniers. On several of our most punishing days, we ended up having to almost double mileage to find the nearest bike shop, to fix broken spokes, reshape square wheels, and buy inner tubes. But, without fail, when problems arose we found the Greek people possessing hearts of gold and, on two occasions, flatbed jeeps just the right size for a broken bike and an exhausted cyclist to ride in!

“In return for the punishing climbs we were gifted with some of the most rewarding, trafficfree mountain roads I’ve ever cycled.”

80% of Greece is apparently considered mountainous. But in return for the punishing climbs we were gifted with some of the most rewarding, traffic-free mountain roads I’ve ever cycled: steep-sided passes with exciting, boulder-strewn bends; sleepy villages surrounded by olive groves; and flocks of goats sauntering down the road, herded by sun-gnarled shepherds. In spite of this quaint beauty, however, it was difficult to ignore the staggering amount of litter strewn on the roadside. Continuing unbroken for literally hundreds of miles, it really put into perspective the challenge we face globally to improve and protect our environment. Having to cross the Gulf of Corinth afforded us a day of flat cycling along the north coast of the Peloponnese, and allowed for several refreshing dips in Greece’s crystal-clear blue waters, even at this time in late October. That evening we recharged in the well-heeled port town of Nafpaktos, where we ate a standout meal of feta, tomato and fennel-topped mussels before heading back into the hills on a more northeasterly trajectory.

On day nine, we arrived at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Meteora, which was simply awe-inspiring. It plays home to several Eastern Orthodox monasteries dating back to the 14th century, each of which sits atop a striking pillar of sedimentary rock. We then turned due west into the wild and uncompromising surrounds of the Pindus mountains. Keeping our eyes peeled for brown bears and a never-ending stream of stray dogs, we worked our way towards the Mparos Pass, a snaking alpine road with a breezy high point of 6,250ft, one of the world’s most dangerous roads, which I had to descend with broken spokes and a flat tyre! Just after the pass, we stayed in the charming village of Kalarites. For people who want to get away from the modern world and travel back to a simpler time, it’s a place I cannot recommend enough. The roads here were entirely cobbled so the only traffic was the village donkey, and there was only one place open for food, reminiscent of a traditional hikers’ hut and presided over by a bubbly middle-aged woman with a warm hug and flowery apron. Along the walls, wooden shelves spilled over with dried pasta, tinned foods and cured meats. The local men were set up for the night, smoking, playing cards and watching the news flicker on an old television. Sitting there with ouzo in hand, it reminded me why I am so passionate about cycle touring.

32 Spring 2020

Special measures for special places Professor Roger Crofts CBE FRSGS, Chair, RSGS, and IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas Emeritus

Since time immemorial, societies around the world have regarded nature as a touchstone for survival, as a provider of food, fibre and medicines, and as a sanctuary for the soul and an icon for the future. These are Community Conserved Areas in modern international parlance. Over the last century, many countries have developed systems for protecting nature by establishing national parks, nature reserves and other special sites. Internationally, UNESCO has led with the establishment of World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves and, more recently, Geoparks. Significantly, the European Union has delivered the Natura 2000 scheme. These initiatives have been successful to the extent that they are a key indicator in the global biodiversity strategy to 2020 with the target of covering 17% of land and water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas. By establishing special protection for particular areas, society recognises the importance of protecting plants and animals, geological and geomorphological features and forms, and the wider habitats and ecosystems within which they survive and prosper. These areas provide a laboratory for scientists to increase our understanding of the evolution of life and the natural processes of change over time, and to allow new minds to apply new techniques and ideas. James Hutton’s Siccar Point in Berwickshire, and the Burgess Shales in the Canadian Rockies, are classic examples. They in turn provide educational value for countless generations to gain a better understanding of our world. Scotland’s National Nature Reserves (NNRs) do exactly this. Rich cultural connections revered in many cultures, such as Uluru in Australia and the cave art in South Africa, are another element. As are recreational benefits; for example, many of Scotland’s Munros are protected nature areas. We react to these areas with ‘awe and wonder’ of nature, such as the Grand Canyon in the USA. And they challenge society to have an ethical approach to nature.

agency and conservation charities. The long-established Sites of Special Scientific Interest, combining geodiversity and biodiversity interests, have clear management objectives and ways of measuring their effectiveness. Overlying these, Natura 2000 areas result in a greater area of land and sea under the strongest nature protection regulations existing anywhere. With the UK leaving the EU, this system needs to be maintained with new legislation and regulations in place, otherwise we lose the best nature conservation system. We hope that the Scottish Government’s commitment to provide improved legal protection post-Brexit and provide greater resourcing and seek improved management will materialise. Continuing support for research is required to provide a greater understanding of nature and natural processes, allowing nature-based solutions to be used more effectively. The ‘theme park’ approach and the focus on rural economic development should be discarded; it is not for special places such as Scotland’s national parks, where the primary statutory aim is protection of nature where there is conflict, which in turn supports sustainable development. Scotland is proud of the international accolades for nature protection such as World Heritage Sites, and those for combining nature protection and sustainable development, like Biosphere Reserves and Geoparks. Let’s see expansion of their coverage, and gain World Heritage status for the Flow Country. But they need a helping hand from government to secure their financial futures and develop into successful examples of nature-based sustainable development.

“Let’s gain World Heritage status for the Flow Country.”

The important issue is not to have these places on a national list, or even delimited on the ground with clear boundaries, but to ensure perpetual protection of nature and natural processes. Too often politicians, for instance at the decadal World Parks Congresses, declare large areas to be protected but nothing happens on the ground; they are ‘paper parks’. That is why the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), a global group of some 2,000 volunteer experts, has developed two key tools for encouraging greater progress. First is the Green List approach of identifying those areas which are exemplars of good practice in nature protection. So far there are none in the UK, although one Scottish site is being considered and others, such as the NNRs, are worthy of consideration. This is a growing movement with now 45 sites listed. At the same time, mere existence of a special protection does not guarantee the mechanism is working. That is why WCPA has developed the Protected Areas Management Effectiveness methodology: how well a protected area is performing against a set of internationally agreed benchmarks. Scotland has a number of systems: NNRs with redefined objectives and agreements between SNH as the overseeing

It also means working out how to safeguard nature impacted by climate change. Considering fully the ‘half for nature’ ethic, linking areas through corridors and reducing the effects of land use practices outside these areas which have a detrimental effect inside, should all be in the frame.

Forsinard pool systems.

IUCN’s definition of a protected area: “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the longterm conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”


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Spring 2020

How much nature do humans need to survive? Jacqueline Batrus, Nature Needs Half Movement Maker; Vance G Martin, President, WILD Foundation, and Chair, Wilderness Specialist Group, IUCN This question is at the centre of the global conservation debate as we move into 2020 and start one of the most important decades in human history. Such an obviously essential question can no longer be considered a luxury to be addressed ‘after we eliminate poverty’, the standard reply from politicians and developers. With the interrelated, accelerating, existential threats of climate chaos and species extinction, survival is now at issue… and that is certainly not a luxury. Human survival depends on an abundant source of wild nature and the unique life-supporting services that only it provides to assure life on Earth. This question drove the WILD Foundation to launch the Nature Needs Half (NNH) movement at the 9th World Wilderness Congress in 2009. It was the first initiative to call for protection of half the Earth’s lands and seas, for the safety of nature as well as for human wellbeing. Despite ample scientific data and traditional knowledge as the basis for such an ambitious vision, many conservation leaders considered the goal ‘politically unwise’, and ‘we would be laughed at’ to publicly advocate for it. What a difference a few years make. WILD gathered a small core of visionary leaders to incubate quietly and expand work on the 50% goal. To date, this network is over 50 organisations, scientists, environmental, media, and Indigenous leaders, who were committed to a movement and ready to act at the right time. The time for that movement is now. In the next 20-30 years, humankind is on track to build 25 million kilometres of roads (enough to encircle the Earth 600 times), double the amount of hard infrastructure across the planet, and fill the ocean with more plastic than there are fish. This begs the question, when is it more effective and efficient (and even possible) to assure a sufficient resource of wild nature for human survival? Clearly, the efficiencies of protecting now, rather than restoring later, are a sound economic proposition. In 2020, United Nations protocols require major decisions on both the climate and extinction crises. At the UN Convention on Biological Diversity conference in October, world leaders will determine how much nature they are willing to protect to help humanity survive the twin threats of climate breakdown and habitat destruction. A political impossibility only a decade ago, a growing number of these leaders now seriously consider ambitious targets for protected areas – up to half of Earth’s land and seas – as a necessary next step. While such a movement is gathering momentum, it is far from assured. Although traditional and contemporary scientific

consensus supports ‘half’ for humanity to thrive, and survive, getting political leaders to publicly recognize that fact is neither easy nor guaranteed.

“The efficiencies of protecting now, rather than restoring later, are a sound economic proposition.”

Nature Needs Half establishes a new relationship between people and nature, one built on the best science, as well as the best values of respecting each other and the natural world. The climate and biodiversity crises are the result of a broken relationship in which one partner, humans, takes too much for themselves. This is the time for us to support Mother Nature’s needs so that she can support ours. We have entered an era that is nothing short of a ‘survival revolution’. 2020 starts a decade that is absolutely crucial for all life on Earth. That is why WILD is using all forms of media to mobilise millions of individuals and organisations around the world through the Nature Needs Half movement. The goal is to urge world leaders to choose survival instead of extinction, and to actively foment an inspiring revolution instead of passively allowing collapse. Growing numbers of people in the developed world recognize the need to protect half, and are driving the global conversation. But country-level support in other parts of the world is critical to achieve ‘half’ in time to prevent the worst of the climate and extinction crises. As a result, the NNH movement is stimulating an urgent, civilsociety awareness campaign in the world’s most populous, powerful, and biodiverse countries: the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). These five countries contain nearly half of all humans, and are among the highest in biodiversity and wilderness quantity and quality. They are essential partners around the world to build and expand coalitions capable to push for a ‘survival revolution’ (www.\survival-revolution). Namibia and Bhutan are already actively implementing nature needs half. The survival revolution goal is to reach 100 million people worldwide with urgent calls to protect half of our lands and seas, and to drive institutional and government dialogue for ‘Half policies’ to ensure implementation of global agreements. Nature Needs Half’s survival revolution is a core part of the answer to the question “How much nature do humans need to survive?” It is our key to protecting our wild world, our human health, and the sense of wildness and wonder within us. It is essential for both our survival and our sanity.

Enjoying nature at Loch Morlich, Glenmore, Cairngorms National Park. © Lorne Gill | SNH

34 Spring 2020

Place-based natural solutions: climate, nature, and people Scott Leatham, Policy Specialist, Scottish Wildlife Trust

That we are witnessing climate breakdown is undeniable, but worse is set to come without radically decarbonising our economy and reimagining how it works. Extreme weather events are increasing in severity, duration, and frequency, while breaking heat records has become the norm. Whilst this affects us all, the impacts are not equally distributed: they hit hardest in areas least responsible. As well as the cost to people and their livelihoods, nature is deeply impacted by climate change, and compounded by rising levels of plastic and other pollution.

species, ensuring this is permanent reforestation, not tree planting for the purpose of harvesting timber.” And there’s good reason. Woodlands and trees store carbon while contributing to rejuvenating soils, which in turn help alleviate flooding. In cities, over rivers, and throughout the landscape, their shade mitigates temperature increases while greater connectedness lets species move more freely, building their resilience against ecosystem change. Access to woodlands, and nature more generally, can contribute to wellbeing and other health and recreational benefits, climate change mitigation, air pollution mitigation, adaptation, resilience, and biodiversity. It’s true that some of the benefits of woodlands will only be realised in decades to come, but that means acting now to provide these benefits later. The climate emergency means decarbonising as soon as possible, and nature regeneration does provide short-term mitigation benefit, but it can’t be the only timeline we work on or we risk thinking only in the short term. We can leave future generations more than the absence of climate catastrophe – we can also leave a replenished nature. This is central to the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s work, and we’ve made the case for protecting and restoring marine, peatland, woodland, and urban ecosystems as part of tackling climate and nature breakdown.

“Natural climate solutions are essential but not sufficient.”

The nature and climate crises aren’t the same, but they are deeply interlinked. Scientists and conservationists have shown that natural and semi-natural ecosystems are likely to be the ‘best starting place for immediate adaptation and mitigation solutions’. The United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity’s technical group has pointed out that restoring nature could provide 37% of the global mitigation necessary this decade to meet the Paris Agreement. It’s set to be raised in global talks that Scotland will host in April and November.

But we need to be clear: natural climate solutions are not a panacea. They are essential but not sufficient; ending our reliance on fossil fuels through a Just Transition is more important than ever. Nature-based solutions must not justify new emissions when we know that both nature restoration and decarbonising are necessary to prevent climate breakdown. We can’t trade one for the other. Healthy ecosystems emit and sequester greenhouse gas emissions as part of a natural flux, but the long-term, intensive degradation of nature disrupts this. Scotland’s peatlands, for instance, store around 140 years’ worth of Scotland’s annual territorial emissions. But with around 80% degraded, they are emitting more than they are sequestering. Restoration is happening, but not at the scale necessary; emissions from peatlands in Scotland have barely changed in 20 years. The Scottish public must have a say, too. In the Big Climate Conversation, the thousands of participants rated largescale reforestation as one of the most common high-priority actions, saying, “the Scottish Government should incentivise and encourage large landowners to reforest land with native

Planting a green roof at the Edinburgh Chaplaincy Centre. © Leonie Alexander, RBGE

That means greater access to nature and people-led urban transformations, which have been shown to enable positive behavioural change, including for the environment, health, and wellbeing. A greater sense of stewardship and shared ownership of the local and global environment is itself part of the solution. Natural solutions make growing cities better places to live for people and wildlife. For instance, one study has shown that UK urban forest can store as much carbon as tropical rainforest. Another 20-year study showed the heat-island effect, set to worsen with climate change, was absent in urban areas with more extensive green roof coverage. Increasing the quantity, quality, and connection of green spaces, from trees to urban farms, will help provide green corridors for people and wildlife, as well as aesthetic, health, and social benefits. Particular attention should be paid in those areas with historically lower rates of green infrastructure investment, to help resolve inequalities in access to nature and inequalities in health. Whilst ambitious, the approach is people-centred and evidence-based. Natural solutions aren’t a technology we have to hope for, and they do much more than store carbon. An approach involving local stakeholders, including residents and communities, is essential for ensuring that it is inclusive, deliberative, and imaginative, that it’s an expression of local action, and that we maximise the wide benefits that come from restoring nature.


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Spring 2020

Biodiversity 2020: looking forward Deborah Long FRSGS, Chief Officer, Scottish Environment LINK

There is a climate and biodiversity emergency. With ten years to act, we now need to act like there is an emergency. This means pivoting the economy away from carbon and nature destruction and towards carbon sequestration, nature restoration and a healthier society.

the National Planning Framework, it would require support from incentives to steward the soil, habitats and species populations, and it would require mapping and monitoring of natural and farmed landscapes to manage the right land for the right purpose and track changes.

The global picture in the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report published in October 2019 shows that biodiversity continues to be lost, ecosystems are still being degraded, and many of nature’s support systems for people are being compromised. These changes are happening on a global scale. The State of Nature 2019 report for Scotland ( state-of-nature) reflects a similar picture. Evidence now shows that the multiple threats to biodiversity have intensified and that the sustainable use of nature will be vital for adapting to and mitigating dangerous climate change, as well as for achieving many of our most important development goals. Goals for 2030 and beyond can only be achieved through transformative changes in economies, societies, technology and political spheres, argues the IPBES report.

This will only be achieved with cross-sectoral cooperation between government, planning authorities, land managers, developers and local communities. Progress towards resilient landscapes, where biodiversity loss halts and habitat conditions improve, requires action, backed up by monitoring for which capacity building and resourcing is required. In 2019, SNH monitored only 4% of designated features in Scotland’s protected areas, down from 23% in 2009. This level of monitoring cannot hope to track the level of transformative changes we need to see in biodiversity health across Scotland.

“Policy reforms that deal with the causes of environmental harm offer the potential to conserve nature and provide economic benefits.”

Progress has been made through direct investment by charitable trusts, European funding programmes and government funding, including for example Scotland’s Peatland Action fund and some biodiversity projects in the Biodiversity Route Map. In contrast, wider economic incentives have generally favoured expanding economic activity, and often creating environmental harm. It is this counterbalance that needs to change. Policy reforms that deal with the causes of environmental harm offer the potential to conserve nature and provide economic benefits, particularly where they are based on more and better understanding of the multiple values of nature’s contributions. Taking this step would set Scotland on the path towards dealing with both emergencies. It also takes us a long way towards wellbeing as a measure of a healthy nation, instead of GDP, an increasingly outdated measure of the nation’s wealth. By its very nature, transformative change will be opposed by those with interests vested in the status quo. Such opposition can and must be overcome for the broader good. The widespread scale of change required implies aligning and advancing sustainability as part of local, national and international development, and mainstreaming biodiversity and sustainability across all extractive and productive sectors, including mining, fisheries, forestry and agriculture, so that together, individual and collective actions result in a reversal of the deterioration of ecosystem services at global and national level. One such transformative change that would start to address the ongoing loss of biodiversity is to reverse the continuing fragmentation and degradation of habitats, by implementing a nature network capable of supporting habitat restoration and species movement through a nature-friendly landscape. The establishment of nature networks rebalances stewardship with production, conservation and access, and uses management techniques that work with nature and not against it. It provides benefits not just to nature, but to local communities too. This would require prioritisation through

White-tailed eagle. © Lorne Gill | SNH

This is what needs to happen before 2030 in Scotland: • reversing declines in funding for nature from public and private sources, including charitable sources; • enabling farmers and foresters to steward land, and work with nature rather than against it; • bringing nature network principles into planning through revision of the National Planning Framework; • enabling local decision making on local land use change; • managing Marine Protected Areas effectively alongside sustainable fishing policies; • enabling freshwaters to flow freely from source to sea, from channel to flood plain, and from surface water to ground water, protected from pollution, abstraction, and non-native species. Can this be achieved? In November, the world comes to Glasgow for the 26th Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. 2021 is the start of the UN Decade of Ecological Restoration. Now is a great time to demonstrate to Scotland’s people and the world, that the political will to implement transformative change to deliver sustainability underpinned by healthy ecosystems and thriving rural communities is here. We can all celebrate Scotland’s nature, value it and treasure it. It makes us feel good. But, it would feel even better if we were in a position to hand better biodiversity and healthier landscapes on to future generations.

36 Spring 2020

Three words to help everyone talk about everywhere Giles Rhys Jones, Chief Marketing Officer, what3words

A new addressing system is helping people, businesses and emergency services talk about precise locations easily, and is helping to make the world a less frustrating, more efficient and safer place. It all started back in 2013. Chris Sheldrick was in charge of organising live music events, and bands and equipment constantly got lost trying to find venues and festival locations. He tried giving out coordinates, but mistakes were easy to make and hard to spot until it was too late, like the time he drove to a field an hour north of Rome, only to find out that the rest of the crew had driven to a field an hour south of Rome. This didn’t just happen in unaddressed places like empty fields. Delivery drivers and musicians struggled to find the right entrances to venues or would end up in the wrong place entirely. Lost, they’d call Chris for directions. It happened so much he thought there had to be a better way. He enlisted a friend’s help to create a system as accurate as GPS coordinates, but much more user-friendly. Their solution was to divide the world into a 3m x 3m grid and give each square a unique address made of three words: a what3words address.

incident reporting and environmental surveys much simpler. what3words has also made user mistakes very easy to spot: similar what3words addresses are placed far apart, and the system accounts for spelling errors, typos and makes suggestions based on what3words addresses nearby. GIS platforms like ESRI, QGIS, FME and Autodesk now have plugins that allow users to enter what3words addresses in a search bar, discover the what3words address for a location, plot what3words addresses on a map, and convert coordinates to what3words addresses and vice versa. These integrations are helping businesses geocode customer addresses, locate assets efficiently, and communicate those locations easily. UK Power Networks is advising customers and organisations to report overhead line damage with what3words so it can respond faster. Switzerland’s national transport company has built a database which lists information for each bus stop in Switzerland along with its what3words address in German, French, Italian and English. The National Land Survey of Finland, the organisation responsible for the public mapping of the country, has integrated what3words to help make its spatial data more accessible to every type of user, and EDF Renewables uses what3words to identify wind turbine locations.

“With what3words, every single spot in the world can be precisely referred to with just three simple words.”

With what3words, every single spot in the world can be precisely referred to with just three simple words. For example ///task.mercy.planet is the what3words address for the RSGS office in Perth. If you enter these three words into the what3words app, online map, or any platform or app that has integrated the system, you’ll be able to see the exact 3m x 3m square location.

Jack Dangermond, ESRI co-founder and president, said: “A simple way to communicate location is essential to unleashing the full potential of geographical information for everyone. what3words has solved a major aspect of that, particularly in geographies that lack addressing.”

what3words is now available in over 40 languages and is helping people all over the world meet up easily, navigate their cars to precise destinations, get deliveries to the right places, and book rides exactly where they want them. what3words is used by most UK emergency services, and it has helped businesses improve customer experience, better manage their assets, and optimise their operations: hotels tell people exactly where their front entrance is, ride-hailing apps allow customers to indicate exactly where they’d like to be dropped off, and delivery drivers find their dropoff points quickly and easily. Just like Chris, businesses have struggled to communicate the GPS coordinates for their assets to people on the ground. It’s easy to mishear the numbers, punch them in incorrectly, or swap two digits around. A human-friendly way to talk about very precise locations makes location data collection, asset management,

If you’d like to add what3words to your GIS platform, go to for more information.


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Spring 2020

Australian bushfires Professor Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health, University College London, and Professor II, University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway #AustraliaIsBurning was one trending hashtag in January, with the country’s bushfires captivating the world. Dozens died and thousands lost their homes, as poignant videos showed firefighters (fireys), many of whom are volunteers, racing toward and through the flames to avert even worse damage. At least seven firefighters, four Australians and three Americans, were killed. Bushfires and bushfire disasters are not new to Australia: 62 people died in Tasmania in the Black Tuesday fires of 7th February 1967, while 75 were killed on 16th February 1983 in Victoria and South Australia; 7th February 2009, labelled Black Saturday, witnessed the most lethal Australian bushfires known so far, with 173 deaths and 3,500 buildings incinerated. It is unsurprising that fires can be so destructive. They can easily move 10-20 kilometres per hour, well beyond most people’s jogging pace. Air temperatures around a fire can reach 800°C as flames soar up dozens of metres and embers drift to spark new blazes far from the fire’s front. Lightning often triggers fires, while people start them through sparks from vehicles or electricity lines, careless smoking or campfires, and the horror of arson. This time in Australia, fires also began from the heat of a helicopter’s landing light and from fuel used for a beekeeper’s smoke to calm bees.

became the standard. Fire disasters became inevitable, especially as bushfire intensity and prevalence increased without regular, managed burning. Hard, fatal lessons generated a better understanding of protecting life and property while living with fire. Australian building codes and standards advise on constructing properties to deal with embers, heat, and flames. Landscaping, too, supports fire safety through choosing, placing, and maintaining plants and a property’s surroundings. No matter how much this advice is implemented, no guarantees exist. In Australia this year, some managed to save their houses as the fire roared past; others perished while trying to do so. The key is not waiting until the smoke or flames peek over the horizon, because by then, it is too late. Instead, preparation must begin years before fire ignites and must never stop. This entails psychological readiness to evacuate rapidly and safely, knowing that we might return to nothing remaining. This includes financial readiness, such as local businesses losing a season’s worth of income as locals leave and tourists stay away. And dealing with related hazards – prominently smoke deteriorating air quality to the point that air pollution levels in Canberra, Sydney, and elsewhere severely threatened health.

“Preparation must begin years before fire ignites and must never stop.”

Harmful fire has not always been Australia’s norm. For millennia, Indigenous Australians guided a low-intensity fire regime to take care of trails, to trap animals, and to prevent burnable fuel from accumulating which could then produce much larger conflagrations. Ecosystems adapted to these actions so that periodic, low-intensity bushfires became a typical part of nature, with many plant species using a fire to renew and propagate. We do not know how many Indigenous people succumbed in their fires or how frequently out-of-control blazes scarred the terrain. We do know that European colonisation of Australia dramatically shifted views and management of fire. Rather than accepting bushfires as part of the land, they were an enemy to be fought and suppressed. Wilderness was further tamed by encroaching farms, settlements, and infrastructure. Building in burnable areas without fire resistance measures

© Nick Moir (

Meanwhile, bushfires will not end with 2020. The signal from human-caused climate change seemed clear in the fires, through higher air temperatures and lower rainfall which augmented the fires’ spread and intensity. The future is expected to bring worse as climate change’s impacts become increasingly felt. As we have changed fire characteristics so rapidly, nature has not been able to keep up. A long list of species is threatened by the fires’ extent this season, topped by the photogenic koala, but including other mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, insects, a spider, and plants. Yet irrespective of how the climate and fires are changing, the disaster for us is still fundamentally caused by people living in dangerous zones without taking adequate measures. Australia has been burning, but as we continue to tinker with a fire regime which used to be manageable, people living there can make choices to stop the fires from becoming disasters.

Professor Kelman’s latest book is Disaster By Choice (Oxford University Press). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram @ILANKELMAN.

38 Spring 2020

What net zero means for land management in Scotland Sir Ian L Boyd, Defra Chief Scientific Adviser 2012-19, and Professor of Biology, University of St Andrews

In 2017, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) produced a report titled Climate Change is the Challenge of our Generation. This now seems like a significant understatement. We need to make a significant step change in many areas of our lives and our economy to meet the challenge. One of these is in how we manage land. We are increasingly aware of accumulating evidence about climate change. Model projections have been foretelling this for many decades, but we now have direct experience of extreme weather caused by climate change. Insurance risks for floods, droughts and storms have increased steadily since records began in 1980. This is not just because of increasing vulnerability. Non-climate environmental risks associated with geophysical events have increased by only about one-third of climatological events and about one-tenth of the hydrological events. The data shows that climate change is affecting us now and the trends are upwards. Large, meaningful changes are needed in response.

growing meat, which is highly inefficient in terms of GHG emissions, we need to use our land to grow carbon stocks. Any loss of production needs to be made up through innovation in food manufacturing. There is a very rapid increase in new food technologies which are shifting us conceptually from food production by farming towards food production by manufacturing. This includes controlled growth systems involving everything from low-tech poly-tunnels for soft fruit to high-tech vertical farming and bacterial and fungal fermentation. The food production from our land probably needs to become five to ten times more efficient by 2050 than it is today. Current farming has extremely low levels of food production efficiency, both in terms of calories and nutrients, and we need to re-engineer this to make it a lot better. Repurposing land does not need to be to the disadvantage of those who currently manage that land. Transition support would be needed to re-skill and to shift business models. If all those countries around the world, including the UK, that have declared a target of net zero emissions by 2050 are to succeed, then businesses everywhere are going to have to buy carbon offsets. This means the carbon price is likely to rise rapidly because there is a global shortage of these offsets. It may not be long before landowners in Scotland, and elsewhere, can make more money by sequestering carbon on their land than by growing beef, sheep or deer.

“We could solve about 30% of the greenhouse gases problem by using land differently.”

The UK has a particular responsibility to lead the world out of this situation. It has the governance capacity to self-organise, it has technological and scientific investments which could be directed towards solving the problems and, most importantly, it has a moral duty to do so. This duty arises because consumptive exploitation transfers natural capital into financial capital which has been the basis of the growth in the UK economy for several centuries. Global consumption of raw materials continues to rise exponentially. Solving the climate problem will only be achieved if we resolve the problem of this unsustainable consumption. Greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions are a consequence of over-consumption. Many actions need to be taken in parallel to achieve a step change in consumption and to reduce environmental impacts. One of the ambitious actions we could take involves how we use land. We could solve about 30% of the GHG problem by using land differently. I have suggested that we should be looking to reallocate about 50% of current agricultural land (about 35% of total land) in the UK to new functions. These would include active management for carbon storage through the restoration of peatlands, the planting of trees, and the harvesting of those trees in ways which would sequester carbon, perhaps as biochar. It would also release land for the restoration of biodiversity and for recreation. A policy of open access to land across the whole of the UK, much as it is now in Scotland, is likely to bring health benefits as well. Under this scenario, we would need to reduce livestock to perhaps one-tenth of the current levels. Rather than

The massive challenges ahead may have been understated by the UNFCCC, but if there is the will they can be met. I am confident that we can develop the technologies to achieve the changes needed. But I am much less confident that people will understand the need to change their own outlooks and lifestyles to allow these changes to bite. This will include the ways in which we manage and value land. FURTHER READING

Roe S, et al (2019) Contribution of the land sector to a 1.5°C world (Nature Climate Change)

Autumn tree planting on the slopes of Sgurr nan Fhir Duibhe, above Loch Clair. © John MacPherson | SNH


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Spring 2020

Offsetting biodiversity losses due to housing development Professor Nick Hanley, Professor of Environmental and One Health Economics, Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow Biodiversity worldwide is under increasing pressure from urban development and agricultural expansion. Within Scotland, we see these pressures in the conflict between the demand for new housing and infrastructure developments, and the continued and rapid decline of many indicators of biodiversity. How can society best respond to this conflict over land use? Biodiversity offsets are one option to reduce pressures on habitats and their associated species. Biodiversity offsets provide “measurable conservation outcomes resulting from actions designed to compensate for significant residual adverse biodiversity impacts arising from project development, after appropriate prevention Curlew. © Lorne Gill | SNH and mitigation measures have been taken.” The term encompasses a wide range of mechanisms intended to protect biodiversity, which are variously referred to as compensatory mitigation, mitigation banking, habitat banking and wetland banking, to name but a few. Examples of offset schemes can be found all over the world. Offset markets involve different suppliers of credits, such as farmers restoring wetlands, selling these credits to buyers who are required to purchase credits to offset the effects of developments, such the negative impacts of house building on wetlands. By establishing the correct rate of ecological exchange between sellers and buyers, the government can avert losses in biodiversity in the face of development pressures, and maintain no net loss of biodiversity within the area covered by the scheme. Such markets often use regulatory bodies as intermediaries to oversee and facilitate offset trades. The USA and Australia have led the implementation of such markets.

most profitable use of land buying the credits. This allows conservation targets to be realised at lower cost than alternative tools such as tougher planning laws. However, like in any constructed market, the rules of the game are very important. In a recently published paper, we set out the important market design parameters for biodiversity offset markets. They include the ecological currency in which offset credits are created (eg, pairs of lapwings, or hectares of new saltmarsh), the ecological exchange rates between buyers and sellers located in different parts of the policy area, and the number of potential buyers and sellers who are covered by the scheme. It turns out that important lessons in environmental market design can be learnt from the largest existing environmental market worldwide, namely pollution trading (such as the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, and regional markets for NOx permits in the USA).

“So far, experience with biodiversity offsets has been mixed. Yet policy makers and conservationists are looking for new ideas to resolve development/ conservation conflicts.”

What are the advantages of biodiversity offset markets? First, through creating positive economic incentives for conservation, the mechanism encourages private landowners to take costly actions which benefit biodiversity. Proponents of biodiversity offsetting argue that the scheme allows for coordinated, large-scale restoration efforts, which can provide quicker, more certain and cheaper conservation gains than site-by-site mitigation undertaken by developers. Funding for these conservation actions comes from the firms who impact negatively on the environment, rather than from the general taxpayer. If a market in biodiversity offsets works well, then we should see those farmers who are most efficient (cost-effective) in ‘producing’ extra biodiversity (more habitat for lapwings, for instance) winning the contracts to supply offsets, and those developers who can make the

So far, experience with biodiversity offsets has been mixed, with many ecologists claiming that offsets fail to deliver no net loss in specific measures of biodiversity over time; for example, due to uncertainty over the success of restoration schemes which are used to generate the credits. Yet policy makers and conservationists are looking for new ideas to resolve development/conservation conflicts which are becoming increasingly pressing. What can be done to improve how a future biodiversity offset scheme might work in Scotland and/or the UK? Could a scheme be designed to achieve a net gain in biodiversity, rather than just no net loss? A new project centred at the University of Glasgow, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, is investigating these questions, based on two case study catchments: the Tees Estuary in north-east England and the Forth Estuary in Scotland. We are using a combination of ecological and economic modelling to investigate the effects of changes in how a biodiversity offset market is designed, and in particular its predicted impacts on three bird species (curlew, lapwing and oystercatchers). Results will be published over the course of 2020. For more details, contact me on FURTHER INFORMATION

Needham K, de Vries F, Armsworth P, Hanley N (2019) Designing Markets for Biodiversity Offsets: Lessons from Tradable Pollution Permits (Journal of Applied Ecology, 56)


40 Spring 2020

Scotland’s rainforest Professor Roger Crofts CBE FRSGS, Chair, RSGS

Did you know that Scotland has its own rainforest? It is a unique habitat of ancient and native woodlands, lichens and mosses, open glades, boulders, crags, ravines and river gorges dappled by sunlight, dripping with moisture and wonderfully attractive to be in. Scotland is the last stronghold of this globally important and rare habitat that once spread along the Atlantic coastline of Europe. Oak, birch, ash, pine and hazel trees are there in a wonderful mosaic; their trunks are garlanded with rare lichens, mosses, liverworts and fungi – an exquisite green canopy varying in colour with the light. The extent has shrunk considerably and there are only just over 30,000 hectares remaining. Another 63,000 hectares of native woodland on the west coast is potentially rainforest and would benefit from safeguarding and management to ensure its survival. What a wonderful resource, but sadly, badly degraded. However, it is not too late to save Scotland’s rainforest.

distinctive rainforest flora surviving. This needs to be removed by the well-tried and tested techniques used already at many sites by SNH and other bodies. Cutting repeatedly appears to be the most successful treatment without the side effects of using other treatments, such as herbicides. About a fifth of the sites (some 15,000 ha) have been planted up with exotic conifer plantations which lower the value of the rainforest habitat. These should be removed to reduce the threat of invasion, as has occurred in the Flow Country, for example. Ash dieback threatens the future of our northern and westernmost ash woods. Where the dieback is extensive, trees need to be felled and removed. Elsewhere a careful watch needs to be maintained and consideration given to planting of species not susceptible. Oak trees make up only about a fifth of the total trees, with birch by far the dominant species. This results from the greater seed productivity and the ability to withstand browsing and grazing. Focusing on expanding the other species – oak, hazel and ash – will be critical to restore the diversity of the rainforest. Establishing nurseries of native trees, as SNH has done so successfully on Rum and at Beinn Eighe, is a good model for future tree expansion and would provide work locally along the western seaboard.

“Scotland is the last stronghold of this globally important and rare habitat.”

These remnant oak, birch, ash, native pine and hazel woodlands are small, fragmented and isolated from each other. They are over-mature and often show little or no regeneration. They are in danger of being lost forever. The Woodland Trust feels that a wider plan for the whole of the forest ecosystem is needed to develop a protection and restoration strategy, linking the fragments into a wider whole, and building out from the best preserved areas by sensitive planting of local progeny native species. Almost all of the rainforest is over-grazed/browsed to a degree that will prevent it from re-growing. This means that grazing levels need to be reduced to suit native forest regeneration through negotiation with farmers and crofters, with the agricultural support regime realigned in post-EU Scotland to ensure that this occurs. With this new approach, expansion of the rainforest can occur. Invasive rhododendron is found in 40% of rainforest sites where it threatens to choke the woodlands and prevent the

Climate change and air pollution could well decimate this last refuge for the rare plants that make the rainforest so special to us and the rest of the world. Hence the themes elsewhere in this issue of The Geographer of nature-based solutions, nature-rich solutions and biodiversity offsets, alongside more effective management to reduce grazing/browsing pressures, and protected areas well resourced and managed, will all help to safeguard what is left. Most importantly, these measures will help to expand this wonderful natural asset for us all to enjoy.


The Woodland Trust (April 2019) The state of Scotland’s rainforest ( state-of-scotlands-rainforest) Moss-covered trees and fallen branches at Barnluasgan, Argyll. © Lorne Gill |SNH

biodiversity hotspots


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Spring 2020

The Flow Country Professor Des Thompson, Principal Adviser, Science and Biodiversity, Scottish Natural Heritage; Dr Andrew Coupar, Policy & Advice Manager, Uplands and Peatlands, Scottish Natural Heritage The Flow Country, a massive mantle of deep peat in the north of Scotland, locks up vast amounts of carbon. Stretching from Wick and Thurso in the north-east, to beyond Tongue in the west, and Lairg and Helmsdale in the south, this ecosystem helps reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere which so insidiously contributes to climate heating. Peatlands cover around 23% of Scotland’s land area, but hold 25 times more carbon than the entire vegetation of the UK. The Flow Country alone holds three times the carbon of the entire forest resource of the UK, equivalent to at least 35 years’ worth of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Keeping these peatlands in good condition is vital, otherwise carbon and the important wetland habitats and the dependent species of plants and birds are lost. Following experimental planting by the Forestry Commission, negative trends began when the Forestry Act 1967 provided for generous tax breaks to establish forestry plantations over extensive upland and peatland tracts, with deep ploughing and advanced silviculture supporting this. As a result, there was a massive expansion of forestry, with deep ploughing to drain the ground in preparation for planting of lodgepole pine and Sitka spruce. Large tracts of the Flow Country were destroyed or damaged, reducing its ability to act as a carbon store and to remain as a globally unique habitat.

Plantlife, have bought land to protect and restore nature. In its Budget announcement of 6th February 2020, the Scottish Government committed an annual £20 million for peatland restoration, with a further commitment to invest more than £250 million over ten years. The Peatland Action programme led by Scottish Natural Heritage is directing much of this work, and it is world-leading in ambition and delivery. The Flow Country is an exceptionally important landscape. It is one of the largest continuous areas of blanket bog in the world, and of unrivalled quality. Taking its name from the Old Norse floi, it is indeed wet and marshy. The richness of birdlife is exceptional and accorded virtually every international conservation designation: SPA, SAC and Ramsar. The Flow Country is amongst the largest of SPAs and SACs on land in the UK. It has the highest of the world’s recorded nesting densities of greenshank, dunlin and golden plover. The common scoter, numbering only some 50 pairs in the UK, has its core population in the Flows. Twelve bird species are listed on the Special Protection Area citation as qualifiers. The Special Area of Conservation lists six European habitats as qualifiers, along with marsh saxifrage and otters. Arguably, nowhere else in the world will you find the assemblage of birds, invertebrates and habitats found here in one place. The mixture of arctic, alpine, boreal and continental species co-existing in one place really is exceptional.

“Arguably, nowhere else in the world will you find the assemblage of birds, invertebrates and habitats found here in one place.”

The sea change occurred in the late 1980s, following widespread criticism of the tax breaks, and recognition of the biodiversity importance of the Flows. The government moved quickly to abolish the tax breaks, and so began the long road to protection and restoration of the ecosystem, with large areas protected as SSSIs and later as EU Natura 2000 sites backed by a Peatland Management Scheme which rewarded the land managers, including many crofters, for their stewardship of the area. Fast forward to today and we have a great alliance working to benefit the Flow Country. This is why so much Scottish Government and European funding has been devoted to peatland restoration. Now we are removing the trees that should never have been planted, and using the very best of engineering, science and traditional know-how in the process. And environmental NGOs, particularly RSPB and

We hope that the Flow Country will become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If this succeeds, it will be transformational – placing the peatlands of the far north at the heart of global and national campaigns to halt climate heating and the demise of nature. For local communities and land managers, this could offer great support for what have been tough but now rewarding times; living proof that mistakes can be rectified. This is a special, inspiring place, steeped in culture and nature. From space you can see the Flow Country in all its bewildering beauty. But to be there, walking across the watery landscape and hearing its myriad sounds, is to touch the past and to revel in the present. It is one of nature’s masterpieces.

Oblong-leaved sundew, Flow Country. © Lorne Gill | SNH

42 Spring 2020



a taste of adventure

A kayak in Sarawak

by Laura Freeman

I lie cocooned in my hammock. Rain hammers on my tarp and a raging torrent flows close by. My three team-mates have moved their sleeping rigs up the side of the gorge to escape the Sungai Tutoh river, which is now full of dismembered trees. I wriggle deeper into my sleeping bag and silently urge the river to stop rising. An image of being ripped from the trees in my hammock and swept into the gorge whirls around my head. It was foolish of me to sleep so close to the river but I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that the river would rise ten metres in 20 minutes. Water begins to lap at the ground beneath my bed. I shout for help, don my soggy paddling kit, and thrash up the river bank with my machete to establish a slightly drier spot for my hammock. We are deep in the jungle of Mulu National Park, a World Heritage site in Sarawak. The objective for our two-month expedition is to discover and paddle some of the most inaccessible rivers in the world. We knew that the Sungai Tutoh would be particularly challenging, given its location, gradient and geology, but we were excited to explore one of Borneo’s finest primary jungles. The next day, the water recedes and we decide to continue downriver. Waves crash over our heads as we negotiate an unrelenting series of rapids. One mistimed stroke, or a single lapse of concentration, could result in a boat packed with crucial survival kit disappearing down the river. As we tire, we pull up on a beach to sleep

When people think of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), the image that often comes to mind is of someone paddling through calm, sun-drenched, glass-like waters. In contrast, SUP in Scotland offers a range of experiences. Fighting the wind while paddling a long, narrow loch, or riding waves on the River Tay, or practising Pilates on a warm summer evening! SUP offers a unique way of seeing the natural environments of Scotland, with only a board and paddle between you and the water – and rain, sun, wind, and, yes, even snow! SUP in Scotland is for the hardy of soul. A part of finding my balance involves focusing on the landscape in front of me and the response of my feet and knees to the changes of the board. There is a parallel to finding balance in life. Focusing on what is behind me while paddling has led to unexpectedly splashing in the water…


for the night. All of a sudden, villagers emerge out of the undergrowth. The elders are clad in loin cloths and the local teacher invites us up to their village to stay the night. We enter the village chief’s section of the 200m-long house and are treated to a plate full of smoked wild boar killed with the blow pipes propped up in the corner. This experience was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, filled with beautiful scenery, excitement, culture and, above all, friendly people.

by Jonny Hawkins, Highland Kayak School


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Spring 2020



… s k c i l F


tlan Surf Sco © Paddle

Under an Arctic Sky (2017) | Not Rated | 39 mins

© Kelly MacIntyre

Six surfers set sail along the frozen shores of Iceland, knowing that the worst storm to hit the country in 25 years is about to arrive. Enduring constant darkness and stormy seas, they discover perfect waves and make history by surfing under the northern lights. Currently on Netflix in the UK, this will inspire you to get your board out, even if it means chilly toes!

GRANITE AND LIGHT The granite plateaus of the Cairngorms began their lives far from the Sun, at the roots of a mountain chain when Scotland and America were still parts of the same landmass. Wind, water and ice took their toll, and the mountains were eroded into nothing, but their roots remained. Ice came and took bites from it, but the granite was only diminished a little, 1,000m above the land around it. It became Am Monadh Ruadh, the Cairngorms: round-backed and standing proud of everything around them, a mountain fiefdom of sky-islands, separate from the rest of the Highlands. Their sequestered corners are among the closest things to wildness that we have on our increasingly crowded island. In winter they tower over the surrounding glens from a distance. With only their summits visible over their smaller foothills, they can seem distant and forbidding. Summer comes late to the high plateaus, but when it finally does in June the mountains open their new-green arms, and following the advance of new life up the hillside and on the awakening Cairngorm plateau is one of the finest places that I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding my bike. The highest places in the Cairngorms are fragile, and we have to tread lightly there whether it’s with tyres or boots, but to ride high on a long summer evening is like nothing else on Earth. When the rarefied light of northern midsummer washes thinly across the sky, filling every crack and nook, it spreads illumination without heat, and as the sun reluctantly drops lower in the sky it lingers longest on the summit dome of Ben MacDui. The trail across the plateau towards it has emerged from the snows of winter, and dust motes hang suspended behind my wheel above the cotton grass and occasional cloudberries. Around sunset the breeze often drops to nothing, and the entire sky-suspended place becomes so quiet and still that the horizon could be painted, and the other world of work and worries could be on a different continent. The plateau in summer has its own rhythm of brief life in the long days and shortest of nights. When I ride over the Cairngorms on those rare evenings I feel, albeit temporarily, as though I’m being given an opportunity to join in the song.

b y Hu @topw Oliver ofests

44 Spring 2020

Swimming with Lewis on Lewis Dr Max Holloway, Coastal Physical Oceanographer, Scottish Association of Marine Science, and cofounder of swim-run company WayOutside Ltd In the face of warming seas, reduced oxygen, ocean acidification and sea-level rise, extreme swimmer and UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh FRSGS is campaigning for the conservation of our oceans by swimming in the most hostile environments on Earth. Lewis’ most recent challenge has been to complete the world’s first swim in a supraglacial lake in Antarctica in nothing but Speedo swimming trunks, cap and goggles. A feat he achieved on 23rd January 2020. Lewis completed swims in a glacial river above and below the Antarctic ice sheet, in waters hovering around freezing point and with glacially chilling katabatic winds, to raise awareness of the climate crisis at the Poles and call for the creation of a network of Marine Protected Areas around Antarctica. However, how do you prepare to take a dip on the coldest continent on Earth? Pugh decided that the remote islands of the Outer Hebrides would provide the perfect training ground for a final ten-day camp before heading south. The archipelago hosts more than 7,500 freshwater lochs, representing 24% of Scotland’s total and 15% of the UK’s freshwater surface area, and a meandering coastline that comprises large sea lochs and sandy beaches orientated in all directions; a swimming paradise fit for all weathers. The Isle of Lewis, the most northerly of the Western Isles, was chosen to host a relentless routine of swimming and running twice a day in all weathers. To support him, Lewis posted a job advert in the Sunday Times in a blunt style reminiscent of past polar explorers: “Young guns to train with polar swimmer. Must be willing to swim and run hard. No tea breaks. No Hogmanay.” As a marine physicist working at the Scottish Association of Marine Science in Oban, and swim/run guide for WayOutside Ltd, I jumped at the opportunity. After a short and friendly interview, I was selected for the job – to train alongside Lewis around the rugged shores, cold seas and strong winds of the Outer Hebrides in preparation for his swim in East Antarctica. On arriving in Lewis, the first impression was the abundance of water: there would be no shortage of places to swim. Air temperatures were milder than expected; however, the Scottish mid-winter made up for the lack of snow and ice with storm force winds buffeting the exposed island. Pugh, the man-mountain unmistakably built like a swimmer with

an edge of polar explorer mixed in, has a prolific reputation matching his build; he has swum in both polar regions, on Everest, and along the English Channel, to mention just a few of his achievements. However, Lewis is a genuine gentle giant with an amazing aptitude for storytelling that immediately put you at ease. I was fascinated by his clarity of purpose and passion for protecting our oceans. We began our training on the sandy beaches and (relatively) warm and wavy seas of Carnish Beach on the west Atlantic coast before progressing east into the colder rivers and lochs. The water temperatures on the island were 4-8°C, providing a steady transition towards the near-freezing waters expected in Antarctica. I was well acclimatised to Scottish sea temperatures, but Lewis had prepared in South Africa, swimming in waters of 12-15°C, so the drop to 8°C in the North Atlantic proved his first challenge. Lewis suggested that it takes roughly five sessions to acclimatise to a given water temperature (this isn’t long when you swim twice a day). Lewis acclimatised slightly ahead of this curve and begun to hit his stride after three swims in 7°C. My plan was to stay a half-stroke and half-stride ahead of Lewis to give him someone to chase. This worked well for the first week. However, as Lewis grew in strength and we entered waters below 5°C, the accumulative fatigue and longer recovery times after each swim began to test my limits.


45 Geographer14-

Spring 2020

Hogmanay celebrations included a 1km time trial at Reef Beach, followed by a dram of whisky and an early night (celebrating South African New Year, being earlier) ready for a ‘Loony Dook’ at Bostadh Beach to begin 2020. We were joined by the media for swims in turquoise waters at Luskentyre and Coll Beach. A swim at Loch Suaineabhal surrounded by dusk-lit mountain scenery gave us a taste for the lochs before we moved into the coldest waters of Carnish River and Loch Orasay. The final days were spent returning to Loch Orasay, with 4°C waters and gusts of 75mph providing some of the toughest conditions I have swum in. Lewis relished the physical and mental challenge and proclaimed the conditions “perfect for Antarctica.” Whenever my mind questioned whether conditions were swimmable, Lewis’ focus cast away any indecision: ‘the only daily certainty is that we will swim’ echoed the job description.

inviting anyone to join. We were blessed with the company, kindness, generosity and passion of the local islanders. In particular was Colin Macleod, a local swim guide, whose passion and knowledge for wild swimming spoilt us for swimming venues. We were also joined by filmmaker, TV presenter and outdoor swimmer Calum Maclean, who has contributed hugely to outdoor swimming in Scotland and was on hand to teach us some essential Gaelic.

“How do you prepare to take a dip on the coldest continent on Earth?”

Water is a major feature of the Outer Hebrides; people are not. With an average of nine people per square kilometre, the Western Isles are one of the least populated areas in Scotland. However, Lewis took an inclusive approach to training, advertising upcoming swims on social media, and

Whilst rewarming after our swims, Lewis and I would discuss his mission and the science behind our changing climate. This allowed me to share my knowledge of ice sheet stability and explain how climate change is impacting the Antarctic continent. It was inspiring to work with someone who shares my passions for both swimming in wild places and the workings of our climate. Later this year, Scotland will host 200 world leaders at COP26, the UN’s Climate Change Conference. It was thus fitting for the Outer Hebrides to host Lewis’ final preparation before his pioneering swim and battle call for action on climate change, as all eyes will soon return to Scotland to make 2020 a year of action to address the climate emergency. All images © Stacey Holloway


46 Spring 2020

Jennifer T Doherty (author) and Gillian Robertson (illustrator) (Serafina Press, March 2019) Amil and Amira are rather lost and lonely in their new home in Glasgow. Then, one night, the fabulous BriggaitBeasts appear at their window, ready to take them out over the city (and down the Clyde) to show them how welcome they are. The buildings and the people of Glasgow all help. A small bird travels with them; what does it have to say?

The Summer Isles A Voyage of the Imagination Philip Marsden (Granta, October 2019) In an old wooden sloop, Philip Marsden plots a course north from his home in Cornwall. He is sailing for the Summer Isles, a small archipelago near the top of Scotland that holds for him a deep and personal significance. On the way, he must navigate the west coast of Ireland and the Inner Hebrides. Bearing the full force of the Atlantic, it is a seaboard which is also a mythical frontier, a place as rich in story as anywhere on Earth. Through the people he meets and the tales he uncovers, Marsden builds up a haunting picture of these shores and the redemptive power of the imagination. This is an unforgettable account of the search for actual places, invented places, and those places in between that shape the lives of individuals and entire nations.

Reader Offer – 23% discount + free UK p&p Offer ends 30th June 2020

Britain’s Trees


£10.00 (RRP £12.99)

A Treasury of Traditions, Superstitions, Remedies and Literature Jo Woolf (National Trust, March 2020) Britain’s rich blend of cultures is evident in our interpretation, use and experience of trees. There are old stories whose origins are lost, but don t be fooled into thinking they are obsolete: many of our tree-related superstitions are still practised, quietly and carefully, perhaps even unconsciously. In this beautiful illustrated guide, nature writer Jo Woolf FRSGS weaves together the fascinating natural history, folklore and customs connected with different species. She explores the countless uses for trees throughout history, from food to construction to curious traditional remedies, and introduces the writers, artists and other famous figures inspired by their beauty. Also included are the stories behind some of Britain’s oldest and most beloved individual trees.

Readers of The Geographer can buy Britain’s Trees for only £10.00 (RRP £12.99) with FREE UK P&P. To order, please call 0141 306 3100 and quote ‘CH2042’.

RSGS: a better way to see the world Phone 01738 455050 or visit to join the RSGS. Lord John Murray House, 15-19 North Port, Perth, PH1 5LU Charity SC015599

The Evidence of Things Not Seen A Mountaineer’s Tale WH Murray (Vertebrate Publishing print-on-demand, and Kindle edition, February 2020) Murray’s early climbs were brought to a halt by WWII, and his three years as a prisoner of war were devoted to philosophical study and to writing his classic Mountaineering in Scotland. The time to write about mountains only fuelled his enthusiasm to climb them: the regeneration in mountaineering that followed the war saw him complete three Himalayan expeditions, and establish the crucial route which paved the way for Everest’s first ascent in 1953. Later life saw him return to Scotland and begin the fight to conserve the wild places that motivated him. Written just before his death in 1996, and with a foreword by renowned Scottish mountaineer Hamish MacInnes, The Evidence of Things Not Seen is a must-read for anyone for which the mountains are still a source of wonder.

Reading the Gaelic Landscape John Murray (Whittles Publishing, second edition, November 2019) This book can enrich the experience of walkers, climbers, sailors, birdwatchers and fishers, by enabling people to read and understand place-names in Gaelic, and providing insights into landscape character and history. Names are used to speculate about species extinctions and the history of the Caledonian Forest. Readers learn how place has been defined in Gaelic and how this has been recorded, through a deeper understanding of how native speakers applied their language to the landscape. This new edition has additional images, enhanced drawings, an extended chapter on grammar and pronunciation, and examples of how Gaelic personal names and the human body are used in place-names.

On the Trail of Patrick Geddes Walter Stephen FRSGS (Luath Press, March 2020) From Princes Street looking up at the skyline of Edinburgh’s Old Town, Ramsay Garden and the Outlook Tower shine like beacons above the grey city and provide a vibrant counterpoint to the brooding presence of the castle. The iconic view encapsulates the soul of Patrick Geddes and his vision for greening the environment and urban revitalisation. This guide is a voyage into the world of Patrick Geddes, giving us a fresh look at his life and his significance in the modern day. Follow the trails in Edinburgh, Perth and Ballater, and discover the impact and ideas of the great Scottish genius whose Outlook Tower was “the world’s first sociological laboratory.”

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