WHEN it comes to stunning landscapes and seascapes, Scotland is of course blessed with a world-class great outdoors.

But for all the picture postcard views, things are not well. Our natural world is in big trouble. So much so that we are living in one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Biodiversity and bio-abundance – the web of life of which we are a part, and on which we depend for pretty much everything, including our survival – are being shredded by intensive management, over-exploitation and pollution of land and sea. Leaving natural processes broken, habitats wrecked and plant and animal species in freefall.

The recent publication of the authoritative State of Nature Report 2023 highlighted in no uncertain terms the sheer scale of our loss of nature, and the dire condition of so much of Scotland’s wildlife. The report is a thoroughly depressing read. One in nine species threatened with extinction is just one of its shocking conclusions.

Importantly, though, it’s not too late to fix things. With urgent and bold action, including through rewilding – large-scale nature recovery – we can turn this around.

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Across Scotland, rewilding is surging – offering a major solution for tackling the interconnected nature and climate emergencies, while offering a cascade of other benefits for people. Big wins can include jobs and community wealth-building, better health and wellbeing, repeopling of rural areas, flood reduction, urban cooling and ensuring pollination of our food crops.

Through an inspiring array of rewilding projects, charities, farmers, crofters, communities, landowners and others are creating a growing groundswell of hope all over.

Yet the scale and pace of biodiversity loss and climate breakdown mean we need to do much, much more at a national level, with the full involvement and support of our political leaders.

A major development this autumn offers us the chance to ensure just that. The Scottish Government has launched a consultation about its plans to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and reverse it with large-scale restoration by 2045.

The consultation for Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy, which runs until mid-December, could be a pivotal moment that sets the country on a “nature-positive” pathway.

But will the proposals make a difference? It’s easy to be cynical. Generations of politicians have downgraded or sidelined nature, or been complicit in its destruction. Until recently, too, the Scottish Government has been largely missing from the rewilding story, although that now looks to be changing.

However, the new proposals are undoubtedly ambitious, and appear to be a welcome and genuine attempt to tackle what the Government’s nature agency NatureScot explicitly states is an unprecedented nature climate crisis facing Scotland. The plan is certainly in stark contrast with the appalling row-back on nature protection being inflicted on England by the UK Government.

If delivered and used as a springboard for further action, Scotland could even become recognised as a global leader in nature restoration – a rewilding nation which works with nature rather than against it.

The proposals include a commitment to protecting 30% of Scotland’s land and sea for nature by 2030. We have protected land and sea already, yet much of it is in poor condition. The good news is there is a commitment to managing – in other words, restoring – this land and sea for nature too.

The Government also intends to hold itself to account by developing legally binding nature restoration targets. This should pile on the pressure to ensure the proposals are delivered in full.

So, taking a glass-half-full attitude, what could Scotland be like by 2030 if the plan is fully delivered?

There will certainly be at least one new national park, with nature restoration as its primary purpose.

There will be six other areas where nature restoration is taking place at pace – such as the vast Affric Highlands landscape, from Loch Ness to the west coast – that Trees for Life, Rewilding Europe and a coalition of communities and local landowners are rewilding.

There will be “nature networks” – enabling wildlife to move and spread through the landscape, instead of being isolated in islands of nature among a sea of intensive agriculture.

With related agricultural subsidy reform, we could see widespread nature-positive farming, fishing and forestry – which could be transformative.

If the Scottish Government delivers on its commitments to reducing deer numbers to levels that allow trees to grow, and addresses damaging grouse moor management practices such as muirburn and crimes such as raptor persecution, we could really turn a corner.

Importantly, the Government’s plan acknowledges that its stated ambition requires investment from the private sector as well as government support.

Here, we need a more robust commitment that such financial support will genuinely boost nature restoration in a verifiable way. It must not allow “greenwashing”, in which corporations – chasing the green gold of subsidies and carbon credits – claim to be rewilding while doing nothing of the sort. Such schemes often involve planting the wrong trees in the wrong place and can threaten communities, social justice and rewilding alike by forcing up land prices.

People are key to rewilding, and the Government plan encourages communities to consider taking on publicly owned national nature reserves and other areas. Here, locally-led partnerships between communities and non-governmental organisations should be fostered.

Beyond all this, the Government must be resolute in its defence of its proposals, and ensure that statutory targets are ambitious as well as achievable.

This matters, because there is growing pushback on rewilding from anti-nature voices, often with the support of ambitious politicians – motivated perhaps by a growing realisation that the demand for positive change by wider society is becoming overwhelming.

The Government must not buckle when so much is at stake. If ministers hold firm – and with inclusive, constructive cross-sector engagement on the plans – there is a real opportunity here for Scotland to hit the reset button for its relationship with the natural world, offering fresh hope for biodiversity and for our own future too.

Steve Micklewright is the convener of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance and chief executive of Trees for Life The Scottish Rewilding Alliance is a collaboration of more than 20 organisations which share a mission to enable rewilding at a scale new to Scotland.