After three years as Chair, Ian Ross will end his term on 31 March. Here he looks at SNH’s remit and vision for the future of Scotland’s nature and landscapes.
Over the last 20 years, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of public agencies in Scotland and my invariable experience has been one of hardworking, committed and able officer groups. This is no different within Scottish Natural Heritage, where I’ll shortly come to the end of my term of chairing the organisation’s Board. SNH staff are perhaps the most competent and professional of public servants – consistently professional in their approach, performing and delivering at the highest of levels.
A key part of my role with SNH has been to engage with a diverse range of groups and individuals concerned with Scotland’s natural environment and how we work together to manage it for future generations. At times it has surprised me that, while many associate the organisation with nature conservation work and generally have a respect for the ability of its staff, they do not fully grasp the nature and breadth of SNH’s work. We are the Scottish Government’s statutory body for nature conservation, delivering their policies in relation to our nature and landscapes and giving high quality, objective and evidence-based advice to the Government on a range of subjects. In this role, we are asked to provide advice on how development proposals may affect delivery of Government policies for our nature and landscapes. For a small number of these, this results in us raising an objection to highlight the scale and nature of the potential impact.
In the last three years in particular there has been a more explicit policy link between “nature” and the delivery of public benefits. This is intended to support a much closer connection between people and nature, throughout the country. Nature is a valuable resource, enabling, supporting and at times directly delivering benefits such as health and well-being, active travel, quality of place, economic development and much else. SNH will continue to play a key role in leading these areas of work, it is important that it is supported by strong, effective partnerships and collaboration involving public agencies, Scottish Government, local authorities, as well as private and third sector organisations.
I have come across the occasional comment suggesting that the link between nature and the benefits people experience from it has been at the potential cost of natural heritage enhancement. I would challenge this and would assert the firm view that the reverse is the case. The relevance of nature to our lives in Scotland is increasing and additional opportunities are being created to protect and enhance our natural heritage and landscapes. For example, resources have been secured to improve vital biodiversity gain and the creation of green space has taken place which would not otherwise have happened. This is an area where we need to work harder to get the message across.
As with many public bodies, budget reductions have brought challenge – although there have been positive and creative responses to the management of available resources, it has had impact and consequences. Uncertainties around the implications of Brexit add to this picture, but I would hope that greater clarity will begin to emerge over the coming months and I am optimistic over the Scottish Government and Parliament’s commitment to a high quality environment and its linked benefits.
SNH has consistently taken an inclusive approach to its work, with successful partnerships and work ongoing across rural and urban, and mainland and island areas of the country. SNH is an organisation which delivers and it has been a great privilege to have chaired it and I remain confident over the continuing importance of its work for the people of Scotland.