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Small steps to protect biodiversity

A blog post by Jamie Ormiston

Jamie Ormiston
Acting Training and Accreditation Coordinator

Posted 14/12/2022

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Jamie O, who administers our Green Flag Award and Scotland’s Beach Award, has taken time to write about his connection with nature and biodiversity.  He has supported the development of a new Climate Emergency Training course with biodiversity and nature at its core.  You can find out more about this by emailing katie.murray@keepscotlandbeautiful.org.  

The bracken was so thick in places I was pushing with all my weight just to wade through, their fronds wrapping around my legs and dragging me back down into the dirt. To the right of me was a bank of undulating rock and earth, to the left was a tangled wall of angry brambles, so I trudged on. Pushing and ducking and climbing and weaving my way through the dense vegetation, waterproof trousers snagging on every jaggy thorn and drifting spider silk sticking to my sweaty brow. Finally, I was spat out into a marshy clearing, pockmarked with shallow pools and strange tracks through the long grass. I was in otter territory.

I had taken a trip out near Oban to use up some annual leave and I now found myself on a small spit of land searching for one of Scotland’s most charismatic animals. It had rained heavily all morning and with a break in the cloud and light drizzle in the air I had taken a chance to get out my car, brush off the sandwich crumbs, and see if I could catch a glimpse of an animal I had hoped would be hunting along this hidden spot of Argyll.

I crept forward across the waterlogged outcrop taking note of the growing evidence of otter as I went; the sickly parma violet smell of otter spraint displayed almost ceremoniously in latrines; little collections of broken shells, crab claws and urchin remains; and very clear, well worn, trails leading across the grass and towards the sea. I turned to survey my path through the sodden obstacle -course and that’s when I heard it, the very loud crunch of a sharp toothed mammal chewing on the something very bony and very juicy right behind me.

Almost unbelievably, due to them being as elusive as a Scotland men’s team at a football World Cup, I was now face to face with an otter who had popped out of the water and was now happily filling its belly just metres away. A sight so special it really put into context the fragility of our natural world. The grassy outcrop so perfect for these little mustelids due to the dense bracken and brambles on one side and access to an all you can eat buffet of fish and invertebrates in the rich west coast seas on the other, could easily disappear with any sort of sea level rise. Then there’s the forests of kelp allowing mammals, fish, birds, and invertebrates to flourish undisturbed which would change dramatically if it wasn’t for the cool, clean, sheltered waters of this part of Scotland. Finely balanced ecosystems with many moving parts reliant on undisturbed seasonal changes which have been happening for thousands of years…until now.

This tale could be told a million times with a thousand different species in every nook and cranny of the country. From marine habitats to freshwater, from meadows to woodlands, and from mountain to glen, and that is just one small country in a very big changing world. Over exploitation and removal of key habitats has meant global biodiversity is under threat and with extreme weather events becoming more and more common due to a relentless attack on our climate, it would appear there is no hope for our amazing flora or fauna.

This is why we have just developed our Climate Emergency Training with Biodiversity and Nature, a workshop on which will pilot this week, to help you understand the links, the challenges, and the actions you can take.

We can often feel far removed from the decision makers as if our vote doesn’t really count, so what can we, as individuals, do to really make a difference? Small scale changes can actually have a huge impact on the biodiversity in your neighbourhood. Plant some wildflowers for pollinators, cut a hole in your fence (and encourage your neighbours to do the same) to allow the safe passage of hedgehogs through back gardens, or dig a pond and let nature come to you. Creating habitats for our local wildlife can makes us feel we’re actively making a difference and will be followed by visible results. There are plenty of places to get ideas but a good place to start is the Garden for Life resource pages.

Changing our habits and behaviour is a bit more difficult but can also have considerable impact. Making a conscience effort to buy sustainably sourced fish, reducing the amount of palm oil you consume, or eating locally sourced foods can often be quite expensive and difficult in practise but if we all make small changes as consumers then we can really push for change. Consider where you spend your money and try to support those businesses who are working more sustainably. Our award programmes highlight these for everyone, especially Green Key and the National Award for Environmental Excellence, but only you hold the power in your choices.

Finally, there are loads of charities and organisations out there lobbying elected representatives and policy makers so don’t feel like you can’t contribute because your voice won’t be heard. During a cost-of-living crisis it can be difficult to find extra money to support them but for just a few pounds a month you can usually support the work of some really great charities who are fighting for nature. Pick one which is supporting a plant, animal, or habitat you love. From butterflies to Scottish wildcats and peatland to seagrasses, there is a champion and voice out there for you.   

It is quite difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the science and the endless list of catastrophes that face our planet if we don’t act now. But don’t forget you have power,  power which makes a little bit of difference locally and even globally. That can be our legacy. They might not put up a blue plaque outside your house for planting some wildflowers, but a passing bumblebee will appreciate it and your one small action could have a lasting impact on plants and animals beyond your garden or window box.

Whilst you are alive, make tiny changes to Earth. Just try and make them positive ones. And in the meantime, go and lose yourself in nature, even just for five minutes. Look under a rock at the woodlice and millipedes, listen to the birds in your local park, or get lost in Argyll looking for otters, you won’t regret it.

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