ONE of my favourite moments of 2023 came on a cold December morning, when I was part of a small group that got to release a set of beavers into their new home in the beauty of the Cairngorms National Park.

The beaver family, who were translocated by NatureScot, are the first to settle there in over 400 years. It was a big day for the Cairngorms, and saw it joining Loch Lomond, Tayside and other sites that have seen similar relocation projects.

Centuries ago, beavers were driven to extinction as they were hunted for their fur and meat in Scotland, but, thanks to important initiatives like this, they’re now on track to become re-established as part of our natural environment.

We arrived early in the morning carrying the beavers in crates full of straw and snacks. We watched with big wide smiles as they emerged from their slumber and quickly got to know their new surroundings.

The National: Beavers

Beavers are what is known as a keystone species. This means that they actively reshape the world around them. They don’t just live in the environment, they recreate it, helping to turn a story of loss and degradation into one of rehabilitation.

Beavers are awesome animals.

Nicknamed “nature’s engineers”, these beavers will build dams and create wetland habitats. They’ll have significant positive benefits for water management, including offering an attractive home to other species, reducing the local impacts of droughts and mitigating the risk of floods.

READ MORE: Beaver families to be released into Scottish national park

For the local ecosystem, the months and years ahead will be ones of restoration, as the beavers do their part to heal our environment and leave a nature-rich legacy.

Next year needs to be the year when we take a similar approach to our country and to the world around us. It means asking big questions and trying to undo some of the damage that has been caused by historical neglect.

It won’t be easy.

The task ahead of us is daunting – 2023 saw almost every climate record being broken, and not in any way that we should celebrate.

COP28 may not have lived up to the urgency of the moment, but the long overdue acceptance that we need to transition away from fossil fuels gives a glimmer of hope and a foundation to build on; 2024 must be the year that we turn warm words into actions and take this further.

Nature is our frontline against climate chaos. If 2023 has been a year of wildfires, floods and environmental chaos, then 2024 must be a year of climate action.

If we are to have a sustainable future, then we must put nature front and centre of our response and take big strides for our climate and our communities.

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We all benefit from healthy soil and crops and clean air and water. These are the foundations of a healthy ecosystem and must be a big part of our story. It’s an act of generational stewardship and part of our obligation to leave the world in a better condition than we inherited it.

Scotland is blessed to have world-renowned beauty. Even in our busiest cities we are only a short train journey away from coastlands and nature that so many people have traversed the globe to see. It’s right on our doorsteps yet it has had decades of underinvestment.

No-one can tackle the nature emergency alone. It will take all of us, and it will take teamwork and collaboration.

I’m proud that the Scottish Government is doing its part and that we are putting our money where our mouths are and providing record funding for fantastic nature projects all across Scotland.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my role as Biodiversity Minister is overseeing that fund and ensuring that it’s being put to the best use.

The National: Humza Yousaf and Lorna Slater

It has meant meeting with people who are delivering the change on the ground. Cleaning and restoring our rivers, rewilding our landscapes, expanding our rainforests and saving threatened species from extinction. These are all essential to our national wellbeing and our sustainability.

As part of that commitment and process, 2024 will be the year when we establish a new national park here in Scotland. Another jewel in our crown, it will build on the work we are doing and leave a thriving and positive living legacy of natural abundance that will create lifelong memories for people and families across our country and beyond.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges we face, but this must also be a year of hope and of working and striving for better.

As the weeks and months go by, I know that there will be times that I stop to think about the beavers we released and wonder how they are doing. I know that there will be big challenges for them, but I hope that they are able to settle in well and that they are the first of many families that get to make homes in the Cairngorms.

As we enter a new year, it is more important than ever that we come together to support action for people and planet. It is the only way that we can build a world that future generations will cherish and a society that reflects the values we hold dear.