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18 Oct 2022

Cuts could cost our heritage dear

Written by Stuart Brooks, Director of Conservation and Policy
The Glenfinnan landscape, including Glenfinnan Monument, Viaduct and Loch Shiel.
Stuart Brooks, Director of Conservation and Policy reflects on some of the current challenges facing our conservation efforts.

Scotland’s cultural heritage and landscape are truly world class. They play a huge role in defining our nation through our own experience of place and understanding of our history. But the places we love, the places that make this country special, are vulnerable to government decision-making that is often driven by short-term needs and, as we have seen recently, by reaction to the volatile and unpredictable economic markets.

A perfect storm of economic and regulatory uncertainty following our exit from the EU and a global pandemic, could combine to cause our most prized landscapes and historic sites to be irrevocably changed, or even disappear. We must not let that happen.

Our conservation charity, the National Trust for Scotland, has been in existence for over 90 years. Along with the people of Scotland, we’ve endured a great deal in this time – including World War II, the economic crises of the 1970s, and the coronavirus pandemic. Through all of this, along with others, we’ve worked hard to protect many of Scotland’s treasures and stopped them being lost forever to the passage of time, development and the elements. And we are committed to continuing that work.

But it’s getting more and more difficult.

The cost of living crisis is biting hard, causing politicians to take action to stimulate the economy. One of the consequences of this, intended or otherwise, is the now very real threat of eroding environmental protection and plans for enhancement to rebuild our disappearing biodiversity and address climate change. This is most apparent as seen by recent changes to the tone and rhetoric from the UK Government, resulting in conservation and heritage bodies speaking out.

With much of the UK’s environmental regulation devolved and Scotland responsible for its own planning, agriculture and fisheries regulation and policy, the National Trust for Scotland is urging the Scottish Government to ensure we at least adhere to previous high levels of protection and stewardship and maintain our commitments to long-term environment recovery. As the impacts of the climate crisis become ever more evident, the need to restore our disappearing biodiversity, have effective measures in place that properly protect our land and seas, and continue to work towards a just transition to a low carbon economy – healing and repairing our planet in the process – have never been more necessary. Above all we need to do better to deliver on these commitments and not go backwards.

Implementing these commitments is dependent on having adequately resourced and strong government agencies in place, so it is extremely concerning that recent media stories have suggested there will be significant budget cuts coming to agencies like NatureScot who have such an important regulatory, advisory and coordinating role for nature across Scotland.

We are in an uncertain and turbulent moment in politics, but what we need is the resolve to implement progressive policies to protect our heritage and restore our environment that will benefit everyone, long after this particular crisis has passed.