IN the run-up to this year’s International Women’s Day, I reflected with delight that I was surrounded by more women in senior positions than at any other time in my 30-year career in nature conservation.

The most senior jobs that make decisions about the environment in the Scottish Government are nearly all occupied by women.

Mairi McAllan and Mairi Gougeon, along with Lorna Slater, have the task of addressing a range of vitally important environmental issues, from delivering an ambitious new biodiversity strategy for the country, and bringing forward nature recovery targets, to designing a new framework for farming payments and developing new plans on climate change, to name just a few.

Women are also leading both of Scotland’s environmental agencies – NatureScot (Francesca Osowska) and Sepa (Nicole Paterson).

READ MORE: Meet the Scottish women fighting the climate crisis

In the community of environmental NGOs, I am hugely fortunate to be joined by the likes of Jo Pike at the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Deborah Long at Scottish Environment LINK, and other key women in roles influencing the direction of travel on environmental issues like Sarah-Jane Laing at Scottish Land & Estates and Sarah Thiam at Prosper. I know I will have missed out many others in the sector, but this selection highlights just some of the impressive and highly capable women who are working to deliver progressive reform in the environment and wildlife conservation space.

Not that we have ever been short on inspiring and trailblazing women in conservation.

The RSPB itself was created by a group of tireless women, notably Emily Williamson who founded the Society for the Protection of Birds (SPB) in 1889 to campaign against bird feathers and plumage being used in the fashion industry, which was driving birds including little egrets, great crested grebes and birds of paradise towards extinction.

Emily later joined forces with two other female pioneers, Eliza Phillips and Etta Lemon, merging the SPB with their organisation Fur, Fin And Feather Folk. Their work earned the RSPB its Royal Charter and eventually led to the 1921 Importation of Plumage (Prohibition) Act.

The National:

There have been countless other women across the globe who have shaped the direction of nature conservation, from American marine biologist Rachel Carson who alerted the world to the impacts of our increasing reliance on artificial pesticides, to former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland who established the World Commission on Environment and Development which defined sustainable development as “development being that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

There are many more I could point to, but until relatively recently. the sector was largely the domain of middle-aged men, certainly when it came to the most senior roles. It’s both refreshing and heartening to see this changing.

That said, we certainly aren’t there yet. More needs to be done to address the gender pay gap, remove barriers for women entering the conservation sector and improve safety for women and girls who want to get out and explore nature. In addition, the environment sector is one of the least ethnically diverse in the UK. Much more change is needed for the sector to become truly representative of our communities and society, and ensure that those who will be most affected by the nature and climate emergency have a seat at the table.

It is a challenging time. As well as the nature and climate crisis, we face global conflict and economic challenges. However, we also have huge opportunities at our feet.

Some of the progress currently being made to tackle environmental challenges in Scotland is the most significant I have seen in my career, such as the Scottish Government’s recent announcement to end industrial sand eel fisheries in Scottish waters with the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill and Agriculture Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament, the ambitious new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and the forthcoming Natural Environment Bill, which will set the world’s first legally binding nature restoration targets.

In all of these lie a huge opportunity and responsibility to deliver change in a way that works for people and nature and ultimately results in a fairer and greener Scotland. It therefore gives me great hope to look around at the women I am privileged to work with and who are at the helm of this change, and confidence that more ground-breaking reform will be brokered in future.

Together we will build on the legacy of our predecessors and strive to hand a better world on to the next generation.