What is the problem?
There is no doubt that the climate crisis has impacted the ability of our global habitats, ecosystems and landscapes to adapt towards climate change. In Scotland, we have witnessed dramatic changes to the local climate over the last decade which has resulted in our economy, environment and society becoming more vulnerable. As a result, our country must begin to build processes to prepare for future risks by working to adapt and become more resilient to the challenges, as well as opportunities, of climate change.
We must understand that climate adaptation is not a ‘one size fit’s all’ process for our local communities and organisations to follow. Adapting to the ever-changing climate is full of uncertainty because the impacts of climate change are experienced differently due to various factors, including location and land topography. For example, in Scotland the unpredictable climate and extreme weather events have already disturbed many aspects of our natural environment. This has created long term changes to our unique habitats, ecosystems and landscapes.
What are the impacts?
Local ecosystems across Scotland are more prone to pests and diseases. The fluctuating climate creates new conditions that can allow these to spread and pose new threats, if not managed appropriately. This may also put the health of our local population, plants and animals in jeopardy, which may later intensify already existing pressures on the balance of biodiversity across Scotland.
For example, there is the risk that certain species could struggle or may even be lost. This may allow space for invasive, non-native species like the American Mink, Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam to thrive, as stated by NatureScot. Meanwhile, climate change can also allow the local environment to degrade overtime which may impact valuable land or water supply. This relates to more direct impacts facing the Highlands – a region challenged by coastal changes, varying soil quality and threats to the productivity of local forests and agriculture.
Rising sea levels around the world have been responsible for initiating coastal flooding. Though across the Highlands & Islands, local communities and supporting infrastructure like our main road and rail networks have consequently been affected due to erosion and coastline retreat.
We also rely on soils to prolong biodiversity because this helps to support our agriculture and forestry, whilst regulating water and the store of carbon. For the most part, increased rainfall patterns experienced across Highland have influenced our local soils and vegetation – therefore limiting the use of land. Hotter temperatures are also a factor and can be linked to the productivity of local agriculture and forests that have been disturbed by climate change.
Additionally, the regional spread of pests and diseases from the more inconsistent (yet severe!) weather patterns can hinder the potential for growing conditions – especially those favoured for the stable production of our agriculture and forests. Nonetheless, the warmer climates we have experienced more regularly in the last decade across Scotland has been positive for encouraging the required growing conditions.
What can we do?
Although the impacts of climate change are severe on our biodiversity, hope can be restored as we now have an opportunity to decide a plan of action to build resilience. If we all begin to come together and try conserving, managing and restoring biodiversity through nature-based solutions, this can contribute effectively towards climate adaptation and minimise future risks across Scotland.
We need to align local efforts with global action to increase the use of nature-based solutions through raising awareness about the capacity of this approach to our communities, organisations and government – showing there is significant evidence these solutions are necessary to tackle climate change. It is worth being ambitious in the use of nature-based solutions as this can reveal many benefits for both the environment and population.
We have witnessed this from some groups who have already acted upon climate adaptation. Forestry and Land Scotland have been adapting in how their organisation works to fight the effects of climate change, by focusing on biodiversity in all their efforts through nature-based solutions. NatureScot have also been a leading example in acting upon climate adaptation, by developing eight adaptation principles to help nature adapt to climate change. This organisation also regularly monitor which methods are effective and deliver benefits in terms of our ecosystem services. These are only some of many organisations across Scotland whose efforts have started to make a difference in our future ability to tackle climate change, as we benefit from their lessons learned in the process.
Written by Chloe Sinclair, Climate Change Communications Intern