The Importance of Biodiversity and the role of Biodiversity Partnerships by Dennis Dick
Biodiversity is very dry word and can be quite intimidating to many people. The outgoing Chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Government agency responsible for the environment, reputedly claimed it was not a word in his lexicon…
Yet primary school children seemed able to get a good grasp of what it means. It is a vitally important topic and it is essential that people understand why. There can be no economy, no social fabric, indeed no life for humans at all without it.
It is helping people understand what biodiversity is and why it is important that Biodiversity Partnerships come into their own in Scotland. Last year (2013) the Scottish Government published a revised version of its Biodiversity Strategy. This had been drawn up following advice from various Scottish Government agencies along with many public and private bodies, including local government and wildlife NGOs.
In Scotland there is a formal Biodiversity structure which involves many different organisations in Scotland which have an interest in the environment. At the top level a Scottish Biodiversity Committee, chaired by the Scottish Minister for Environment and Climate Change, leads the strategic thinking.
The Biodiversity Strategy is turned into action by many different bodies. At the local community level the leaders of this action are local Biodiversity Partnerships. Nearly every local authority in Scotland either individually or in partnership with neighbouring Councils has a biodiversity officer responsible for setting up a local partnership and running Biodiversity Forums to promote action for biodiversity.
The Tayside Biodiversity Partnership is one such partnership running a Biodiversity Forum and has been very successfully doing so over the last decade and more. The Partnership gets its funding to employ a full time co-ordinator from the two Councils Perth & Kinross and Angus. Planners from these two Councils sit on the Management Committee which is chaired by an independent expert in environmental matters who gives his or her time as a volunteer.
Membership of the Partnership is open to all people and organisations interested in the environment in Tayside, including government agencies, NGOs and a wider range of many other groups and individuals. Everyone comes together once a year in a Forum.
The Partnership encourages people to understand the importance of biodiversity and to take action to protect and enhance it. It does so through various publications, conferences, and workshops and even held a month long festival a couple of years ago. It also maintains a Local Biodiversity Action Plan.
In encouraging community groups to take local action, the Partnership helps these groups through to funding for projects. The projects vary from protecting swifts, putting up bat boxes, regenerating ponds, creating wildlife walks, re-establishing traditional orchards and much more.
The money in the past has come from the Landfill Tax Communities Fund – some £100,000 annually being available. This is awarded through the SITA Tayside Biodiversity Fund which is administered by the Perth & Kinross Quality of Life Trust. However at the time of writing there is a question mark over this fund. In 2015 the Scottish Government will take over the Landfill Tax from Westminster and it has yet to be decided how the Communities Fund will be administered in Scotland.
Although this article is not trying to explain all about biodiversity with its associated subjects of conservation and environmental sustainability it is worth mentioning the new drive in biodiversity matters is to mainstream understanding of biodiversity and the Natural Capital which nature, wildlife and biodiversity provide.
Through a clearer understanding of Natural Capital it is hoped to engage better with business and industry as well as politicians, both local and national. Last year in Scotland the Scottish Wildlife Trust with funding from the Scottish government and others held a successful international conference on Natural Capital in Edinburgh.
Nature, wildlife and the natural world are not free assets, as many people tend to assume. Plentiful supplies of fresh water, clean air, forests, landscape and so on have always been there without man doing anything. However it is only when these assets, needed by humans for life, disappear that the real economic cost is realised. If the balance of nature goes wrong, if biodiversity becomes degraded and is lost then there will be severe economic and social costs.
In recent years we have seen the planet warming and nature being destroyed and getting out of balance, certainly some of it caused by human action. The consequences are already being felt across the world in climate change bringing more sudden severe storms alternating with prolonged droughts.
Life is going to be very uncomfortable in the years ahead if mankind cannot preserve a balanced biodiversity across the planet. That is why biodiversity is important.
The writer of this short article, Dennis Dick, after a lifetime in journalism, public relations and broadcasting, became involved in biodiversity and the environment in retirement. In the 2014 New Year Honours he received an MBE for services to biodiversity, conservation and environmental sustainability in Scotland. He is currently Chair of the Tayside Biodiversity Partnership.