THE Covid lockdown has lasted 103 days and through the challenges it has brought, many of us have been awakened to the importance of nature in our communities. The sudden absence of traffic noise has revealed birdsong to many people, while the good weather and lack of grass cutting have allowed wildflowers, birds, bees and other pollinators to thrive.

However, in an alarming reminder about just how fragile this progress is, a report sneaked out by the Scottish Government last week revealed just how quickly Scotland’s nature is in decline.

According to the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Report to Parliament, which was published without fanfare, Scotland’s populations of animal, insect and plant species have dropped by one-quarter since 1994, with no sign of this decline slowing.

The report said “There has been very little change in the rate of decline in the last 10 years.”

Habitats such as our scarce native woodlands have continued to deteriorate in just the last three years. This is extremely worrying, and not just because natural systems such as woodlands and kelp forests are essential in tackling the climate emergency. The fact is that what we have been enjoying during the quiet of lockdown is a fraction of the stunning abundance and diversity our great-grandparents would have witnessed. If we don’t act now, what legacy will be left for our great-grandchildren?

According to the report, the decline has been largely driven by land and marine management and climate change. In other words, the way we fail to control development, industrial-scale farming and fishing has been devastating. This has been exacerbated by global temperature changes that have, for example, driven away food for seabirds and allowed damaging invasive species to spread.

So, what do we do about it? The Scottish Government has recognised we are in a climate emergency and the First Minister has linked this to the nature emergency. It’s a start, but as the Committee for Climate Change has warned, government plans for a transition in agriculture remain “half-baked”.

It was incredibly disappointing to hear Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing dismiss these concerns. He told MSPs that he’d “take no lessons” from the biggest environmental advisers to government in the UK. Last week’s report shows he’s going to need to start taking on those lessons fast.

The catastrophic decline in Scotland’s nature represents years of missed opportunities around land use and directed farming subsidies. To fail to act now, in light of these losses, would be criminal.

If we are going to reverse the decline, the Scottish Government needs to set specific targets for recovery and strong action plans to bring nature back. One immediate action councils could take is to not cut back the verges and park areas that have been allowed to grow during lockdown. There are miles and miles of verges along our road network that can become vital corridors and refuges for nature and could go some way to replacing the places lost as our farming has ripped out hedgerows and meadows.

In normal years, councils start grass cutting in these areas before wildflowers bloom, but this year many places have seen the impact of allowing them to thrive. There are public petitions in Stirling and right across Scotland to urge councils to leave them be.

IT’S not about abandoning grass cutting altogether, but about co-ordinating it in a way that protects nature and reduces chemical use. At least half of councils are still spraying gallons of herbicides containing the toxic chemical glyphosate on public green spaces.

As well as causing significant environmental damage, there are very serious concerns about this chemical’s links to cancer. Yet half of Scotland’s 32 councils say they have no plans to cut back on using it.

The use of chemicals by industry is also a serious concern. The salmon industry, for example, is set to trial the use of a toxic pesticide that on land is also a serious threat to bees.

As the UK careers towards a reckless deregulated Brexit, there is a big danger that current protections will be watered down or lost, investment in habitat restoration will falter and the decline in Scotland’s nature will gather apace rather than be reversed.

The Scottish Government’s proposed Continuity Bill stops short of guaranteeing to keep up with Europe on environmental protections.

Indeed, the Government refused to back Green amendments to the Agriculture Bill to embed EU objectives for biodiversity in the future subsidies system.

In the face of a clear post-Brexit power grab by the UK Government, the SNP need to make their minds up about their position on issues such as the Common Fisheries Policy.

If they don’t like the European system of minimising the environmental harm from industrial-level fishing, then they need to come up with a system that delivers even better protection.

Because this is not just about protecting our natural world from destruction, there are communities whose economic livelihoods depend on an abundant and restored natural world.

Protecting Scotland’s nature is about all our futures.