ACROSS the world nature is in decline, and here in Scotland the situation is no different. One in nine species faces extinction and nature charities warn that the abundance of wildlife has fallen by a quarter since 1994, with no let-up in the loss of nature.

As with the climate emergency, we can feel powerless in the face of such dismal facts, but restoring Scotland’s natural environment and our glorious landscapes is actually an opportunity as we emerge from the pandemic and build a greener, fairer Scotland.

This week the Scottish Greens established a new £10 million nature restoration fund as part of a hard-won budget deal with the Scottish Government, alongside pandemic relief payments for half a million households, free school dinners for all primary kids, a better public sector pay rise and, of course, free bus travel for everyone under 22.

The fund is a first step to putting the restoring of Scotland’s natural environment at the heart of a green recovery from the pandemic. It will act as a catalyst, making great projects happen across Scotland, from protecting species that are struggling, like red squirrels, to restoring the rich and diverse habitats that once dominated Scotland, like native Caledonian pine forests, peat bogs and wetlands.

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Rewilding Scotland in this way is not just about trees and animals, it’s about our future too, and building a better Scotland. Investing in nature will create quality green jobs, particularly in rural Scotland, as well as business opportunities in tourism, forestry and other related sectors.

In this way, rewilding will go hand in hand with repopulating rural Scotland. In fact, wildlife organisations last week suggested that 7000 jobs could be created in this way as part of our recovery from the pandemic. Rewilding also benefits us all by helping us connect to nature, something that the pandemic has shown is so essential to our quality of life and mental health.

This has been keenly felt in our towns and cities, where green space is often threatened and where rewilding can have a big impact. This doesn’t have to be about completely redesigning the layout of a city.

During the pandemic we have grown to appreciate our green spaces more than ever. Let’s not forget that as we emerge from this crisis. Let’s invest in our parks so they can be places where plants and wildlife can flourish.

We can improve the quality of our green spaces, which in too many neighbourhoods are often just a patch of grass. Many cities around the world are also creating green corridors between parks and retrofitting existing buildings with green walls or roofs to attract pollinators and birds.

The National: Loch Lomond sits in one of Scotland's two national parksLoch Lomond sits in one of Scotland's two national parks

The jewels in our crown when it comes to our natural environment should be our national parks. Scotland gave the world John Muir, whose campaigning helped establish the incredible national park network in the US over a hundred years ago, yet of the 3500 national parks across the world today just two are here in Scotland. It’s time to change this, and we are committed to expanding Scotland’s national parks and putting them at the heart of our efforts to restore nature.

Restoring nature and preventing extinctions is not just about investing in restoration. We also need strong protections. The Scottish Government never tires of reminding us that 37% of Scotland’s seas are already protected and they are committed to extending the area of protected land to at least 30% of our land area by 2030. This is of course welcome in principle, but the problem is that too often these are protected in name only.

The fact is you can dredge a marine protected area, shoot grouse and set fire to the land in a national park and even build a golf course on a site of special scientific interest. Donald Trump’s Aberdeenshire golf course actually led to the sand dunes at Menie losing their status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

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Similarly, in the year after beavers were supposedly made a protected species, one-fifth of the population was killed under licence from the Scottish Government. Incredibly, Nature Scot, the Government’s recently rebranded agency that is meant to protect nature has even trained and accredited more than 200 people to kill beavers. The population is only around 450.

The rewilding charity Trees for Life is now challenging this morally bankrupt policy in court and I hope they succeed, but it goes to show that nothing short of an overhaul of nature protection policy is needed. Protection must mean protection.

In the coming years, we must commit to scaling up our ambition. It starts with our dedicated fund. But it is also about recognising that the protections that Scotland has in place, while well-meaning, are not doing the job of allowing Scotland’s nature to recover because they are not robust enough.

Scotland has the potential to be a rewilding nation, but for that to happen protected areas need to mean more than lines on a map.