Eco-Congregation Scotland’s Aberdeen/Aberdeenshire spring network event was a great success this year, with over 130 people turning out for the event: Nature and People in North-East Scotland: Human Impacts and Ways to a Better Future.
The following report of the event has been produced by Shelia Tuckwood (photographs by John Scott):
On 31 March 2015 Queens Cross Church hosted Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Network’s spring event. One of Eco Congregation Scotland’s core values refers to working cooperatively with others who care about the environment, and the evening was an early step in exploring the mutual interests of faith groups and conservation organisations in the north east of Scotland.
The event was organised by Bill Craigie, who has strong links with the local branch of the RSPB. Margaret Warnock, National Co-ordinator for Eco Congregation Scotland introduced the speaker, Ian Francis, who has been based at RSPB Aberdeen for nearly 25 years and who covers an area that extends from Banff to Fife. The event was attended by over 130 people from a variety of organisations, which was a just reward for all the planning many had put in during the preceding months.
We were treated to a fascinating insight into the changing trends of the flora and fauna of NE Scotland, which was defined as Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Moray and the Cairngorms and covers 8700 square kilometres, with significant areas of Scotland’s native pinewoods (23%), sand dunes (22%), vegetated shingle (19%), raised bog (19%) and coniferous woodland (8%). Examples of important species present include the red squirrel, Atlantic salmon, capercailzie and freshwater pearl mussels. Scottish curlews account for a staggering 30% of the world’s population.
Since most monitoring methods only began after the 1980s there are limitations in the comparisons that can be made to accurately assess biodiversity changes, prior to the introduction of these methods. In the UK 60% of the 6200 species assessed have declined over a 40 year period. Decreases have been observed in butterflies, moths, bumblebees, wasps, beetles, ladybirds, rabbits (43%), mountain hares (21%), seabirds (46%) and marine phytoplankton at the very base of the food chain. Increases have been observed in 40% of the 6200 species assessed including some dragonflies, geese (327%), deer, otters, grey squirrels and in particular what can be described as “habitat generalists” and alien non-native species such as red legged partridges.
In NE Scotland over the same time period decreases have been observed in carabid beetles, little terns, hooded crows, greenshanks, lapwings, yellowhammers and capercailzies with increases observed in otters, pine marten, red deer, buzzards, barn owls, kingfishers, greylag geese, red kite, Canada geese and goldeneyes.
The importance of habitats was highlighted with reference to land cover changes; there has been an increase in forestry, urban areas, arable and ditches, with a decrease in hedges, moorland and lowland mire. Environmental changes have also affected habitats and reference was made to agricultural methods, wetlands and water quality, woodland management, illegal killing, predation levels, climate change and increased development and recreational pressure.
In the NE of Scotland the economy is buoyant but with wealth and economic buoyancy there is significant development pressure, with over 5000 planning applications annually, 1500 – 3000 new houses each year in the City and Shire and an estimate of 56000 new houses required by 2030. Other developmental pressures include the Energetica corridor and the Aberdeen Western Perimeter Road (AWPR). There are few areas where pressure has been relaxed or land abandoned. Continual habitat loss results from the removal of hedges, drainage, roads and windfarms.
Inevitably there will be some concessions and sacrifices. Most development trade-offs are a net loss to nature, but actions that can be taken to conserve nature include planning conditions (which are made to stick), habitat creation, sustainable management strategies, influencing land use outwith planning remit, support for marine protected areas, care with consumption, sustainability in the workplace, impacts of population, families and lifestyle, people power (politicians will act in response to pressure from the people), and support for environmental charities like the RSPB.
So why does all this matter? Ian highlighted our duty of stewardship, quality of life, moral and ethical duties, biodiversity duty, ecosystem sustenance, sustainable development, and the Scottish Biodiversity 2020 target. Indeed Aberdeenshire Council’s website notes that we “have a duty to preserve this heritage”. If we are unable to achieve these “duties” in a rich city such as Aberdeen, what hope is there for the rest of the world?
We need active management and stewardship. Inevitably there will be some concessions and sacrifices. Most development trade-offs are a net loss to nature, but actions that can be taken to conserve nature include planning conditions (which are made to stick), habitat creation, sustainable management strategies, influencing land use outwith planning remit, support for marine protected areas, care with consumption, sustainability in the workplace, impacts of population, families and lifestyle, people power (politicians will act in response to pressure from the people), and support for environmental charities like the RSPB.
Ian concluded what was an extremely interesting and thought provoking talk by saying that we all have a role to play in pushing biodiversity trends upward.
Questions from the audience touched on the management of forestry, the replacement of trees removed to make way for the AWPR, the re-introduction of species, Grampian forest forum bringing farmers and forestry together, the conduction of censuses, the conservation achievements in the NE in comparison with the rest of Scotland, and species affected by hybridization. The nature and range of the questions served to highlight the importance of the subject discussed.
Scott Rennie proposed a vote of thanks and Ian was presented with a large bag of bird seed to the amusement of the assembled audience, following which there was time to chat over tea and coffee. A collection yielded well over £100 to support the conservation work of the RSPB.