WITH our third First Minister in just over a year now in post, the Scottish Government will be reflecting on its priorities, and seeking answers to many issues.

By any objective standard, restoring biodiversity and delivering effective climate action must be front and centre on the Government’s to do list. And concerted, meaningful action on the nature and climate crises are a top priority for vast numbers of people.

Witness the thousands across Scotland who have already signed the Scottish Rewilding Alliance’s Rewilding Nation Charter in the first weeks since its launch. The Charter calls on the Government to declare Scotland a Rewilding Nation, committing to nature restoration across 30% of land and sea.

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Such ambitious nature recovery is urgently needed, and can be achieved by restoring natural habitats including peatlands, native woodlands, wetlands, rivers and seas, without loss of productive farmland.

Many of those signing the Charter are leaving heartfelt comments about why they want the Government to act. It’s clear people are in desperate need of hope, know the climate and nature emergencies have to be tackled together, and don’t want Scotland to languish as one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth.

Meanwhile, more than 2% of Scotland’s land is now rewilding, thanks to over 150 projects from community woodlands to landscape-scale partnerships. It’s not nearly enough, but the pace of change has been remarkable.

It’s increasingly clear to growing numbers of people that rewilding – large-scale nature restoration – is a powerful solution for reversing biodiversity loss and addressing climate breakdown, while creating benefits including better health, new jobs and community wealth-building, food security, re-peopling, and healthy rivers and seas.

Ultimately this is about choice: as a nation, are we willing and able to work with nature rather than against it? The consequences of that choice are profound.

Take food production. Farming and agriculture depend on crucial natural processes – from wild insects pollinating food and improving harvests, to healthy soils feeding crops, shielding them from disease and boosting yields. With natural processes disrupted or broken across Scotland, choosing to act for nature’s recovery will provide agriculture with a much more secure future.

Equally, as our new First Minister (below) and his deputy review the Government’s priorities, they will surely reflect on the record levels of rainfall we have endured this spring – causing so much flooded and waterlogged ground that farmers have had to delay sowing crops or letting animals out to graze.

Not forgetting that this dire situation followed hard on the heels of the storms of last autumn and winter.

The National: John Swinney said it was an ‘extarordinary privilege’ to be Scotland’s new first minister (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Extreme weather is hollowing away the ability of our farmers, crofters and growers to make a living. A short-term answer is to provide more support – and this is badly needed. But we must also deal with the fundamental cause of our now

highly unpredictable and extreme weather patterns: climate breakdown. And that means

nature restoration as well as slashing carbon emissions.

While the Government might have abandoned its 2030 targets to help reach net zero by 2045, the latest government reset is an opportunity to identify what can be done to get Scotland back on track. Yet this is only part of the answer, because large-scale nature restoration can help with both the causes and consequences of a warming world.

A recent report to the Scottish Government by the New Economics Foundation says rewilding approaches can help us deal with some of the worst impacts of climate change at much less cost than big infrastructure investments, while also locking away carbon.

Rewilding solutions include ensuring healthy peatlands, native woodlands and seagrass to soak up carbon, and restoring ecosystems which help defend us from droughts, floods and wildfires.

With a recent survey indicating more than 80% of climate scientists consider that the international target to keep global temperature rise below 1.5% will not be achieved, with dire consequences, it is clear we must raise our game.

To take another example: we face a mental health epidemic, with a battered NHS struggling to provide the healthcare we all expect and deserve.

More investment in the health service is long overdue – but nature can play a powerful role in improving human health. Many doctors now prescribe contact with nature – sometimes as simple as going for a walk in a natural green space a few times a week – as a treatment for physical and mental health conditions.

Bringing trees, birds, bees, wildflowers and butterflies closer to people provides natural healing resources for everyone. Here again, rewilding offers a big dose of hope.

As convener of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance, a coalition of 20 organisations, I have written to the new First Minister and deputy asking them to double down on work to tackle the climate and nature emergencies, and to meet them to discuss the situation.

So far, the first days of John Swinney’s time as First Minister seem to have taken us one step forwards and one backwards. The appointment of a Minister for Climate Action is very welcome – but the apparent loss of any minister for biodiversity is very disappointing.

Because the climate and nature emergencies are inextricably linked, a more joined-up, forward-thinking approach would be to appoint a cabinet Minister for Climate and Nature Action.

Such a Minister should reaffirm commitments to designate at least one new national park

before the end of this parliament, with the main priority of our national parks being nature recovery and climate action.

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They should commit to fully implementing the emerging biodiversity strategy, with statutory targets; end foot-dragging on introducing management measures for marine protected areas and priority marine features; and ensure no delays for practical measures such as encouraging landscape scale deer management and licensing burning of grouse moors.

As the Government hits a reset button, this should include resetting our relationship with the natural world. Scotland has the choice and the opportunity to show global leadership by becoming the world’s first Rewilding Nation – creating a greener, fairer future for us all.

Steve Micklewright is the convenor of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance and chief executive of Trees for Life.