Empowering grassroots efforts for a sustainable future

by Alan Munro, CCN Coordinator

Biodiversity loss is a critical issue facing our planet.  

Like climate change, the extinction of species and the degradation of natural habitats pose an existential threat to humanity, requiring urgent and transformative action.

The Scottish Government has recognised this and published the final draft Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (SBS) late last year, which sets out an ambitious plan to “halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and reverse it with large-scale restoration by 2045”.

CCN welcomes the publication of the SBS, which has the potential to be instrumental in turning the tide on nature loss, but only if it is met with concomitant action.

The SBS aims to adopt an inclusive “whole-of-society” approach to nature recovery. This is commendable; however, a glaring omission in the draft SBS suggests the traditional government and environmental NGO-led approach that has characterised biodiversity conservation in Scotland for decades is here to stay. Nowhere does it mention the central role of local communities in conservation.

Local communities often have a deeper understanding of their local environment and the species that reside within it, which is essential in developing effective conservation strategies that work within the local context. Although there are increasing efforts to engage various sectors of society in biodiversity conservation, including through public-private partnerships, citizen science initiatives, and volunteer programmes, the potential for local leadership in this area is often overlooked and undervalued.

Engaging community groups as delivery partners in conservation efforts can lead to more effective and sustainable outcomes than top-down delivery. As community groups are embedded in a place, they can encourage wider participation in conservation initiatives. This in turn fosters a strong sense of ownership and commitment among the community to preserving their local environment.

Further, biodiversity conservation efforts that are designed in partnership with local communities can help to ensure sustainable livelihoods for these communities. For example, community-based ecotourism or sustainable harvesting of resources can provide important sources of income.

The Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), a founding member of CCN based on the Isle of Arran, embodies a truly community-driven initiative. Through its work to improve the marine environment around the island, the organisation has not only provided direct employment at its Discovery Centre in Lamlash, but has indirectly encouraged snorkelers and divers to visit the Lamlash Bay No-Take Zone, thus contributing to the local economy.

For these reasons, we would argue that communities are vital partners in delivering the ambition of the SBS and that it is through the grassroots that we can achieve our biodiversity ambitions. By tapping into their local knowledge and expertise, engaging them as partners, and empowering them to take ownership of their local environment, both government and conservation organisations can ensure that their efforts are sustainable, cost-effective, and impactful.

Here are some key actions the Scottish Government, NatureScot and others could take to support community-led conservation efforts:

  1. Provide funding for community-led conservation initiatives, including grants and subsidies for local conservation organisations.
  2. Offer technical support and training for community members on conservation methods, such as habitat restoration, species monitoring, and protected area management.
  3. Implement policies that prioritise community-based conservation and recognise the role of local communities in biodiversity conservation.
  4. Strengthen legal frameworks to support community-led conservation efforts, including recognition of community land rights and traditional knowledge.
  5. Foster partnerships between government agencies, conservation organisations, and local communities to facilitate cooperation and knowledge-sharing.
  6. Ensure that conservation efforts align with the needs and priorities of local communities and respect their cultural traditions.
  7. Increase public awareness and support for community-led conservation initiatives through education and outreach programmes.

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