Letters to the editor – week 01

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Benefits of nature


Scotland is world-renowned for its incredible landscapes and varied wildlife. Earlier this year, the readers of Rough Guide voted ours the most beautiful country in the world.

But it’s important to remember our stunning vistas do so much more than simply bring us joy. Nature-based tourism benefits our economy, and nature benefits each of us personally. Research shows access to green spaces improves our health and well-being.

At Scottish Natural Heritage, we have long extolled the benefits we all get from the natural environment as well as the need to create better places for nature.

Over the past year, we have worked on a number of high-profile initiatives to help connect people with nature and protect our wildlife and habitats.

We continue to lead the development of the National Cycling and Walking Network to encourage people to enjoy the countryside and to help bring more tourists to Scotland.

To help improve Scotland’s carbon stores, we restored 400 hectares of peatlands under the Peatland Action programme. These areas are also home to many of our well-known plants and animals.

We are implementing the Scottish Government’s Green Infrastructure initiative, part of the European Regional Development Fund programme, with a reopening of the Community Engagement Fund in early 2018 – and are working with a range of partners to help improve the quality, quantity and accessibility of green spaces in Scotland’s towns and cities.

We are delivering a Scotland-wide scheme, spearheaded by our Argyll office, to manage the impact of sea eagles on agriculture, specifically in relation to hill sheep farms.

We will continue to work on these projects in the coming year.

Looking ahead, the Scottish Government has designated 2018 the Year of Young People.

It’s so important to provide our young people with access to nature. Research shows childhood access to green space can reduce the risk of anxiety and depression as adults. Early and continuing contact with nature also helps develop and maintain a sense of stewardship and an interest in looking after our natural assets.

That’s why we’ve just launched the Future Routes fund to encourage youth across the country to share ideas that will help young people engage with nature. Working with Young Scot, we will help develop their ideas and bring them to life in the coming year.

As the new year begins, many of us will be making New Year’s resolutions. At SNH, ours are always to ensure everyone in Scotland has continued access to green places and that our natural habitats and wildlife are valued and looked after.

What are your goals for engaging with nature this year?

You can find ideas for getting involved with nature in your community and your local nature reserve on our new website, nature.scot.

Have a happy and healthy New Year.

Mike Cantlay, chairman, Scottish Natural Heritage, Great Glen House, Inverness

Wild animals in circuses


On December 20 MSPs voted through the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill in Holyrood.

The bill, which now awaits royal assent and an implementation date, will make Scotland the first country in the UK to make it an offence for a circus operator to cause or permit a wild animal to be used in a travelling circus in Scotland.

We commend Scottish Government for this progressive law, which is an issue that vets have long campaigned on.

Although there are currently no circuses using wild animals based in Scotland, they have visited in the past.

While this issue may not affect a great number of individual animals, the strength of cross-party support for this ban reflects the fact that the use of wild animals in this way is emblematic of the way we treat all animals.

This law, the first of its kind in the UK, really marks Scotland out as a leader in animal welfare.

Melissa Donald, president, British Veterinary Association Scottish branch

Brexit and business


The retail industry is undergoing significant transition as it adapts to changing shopping habits against a backdrop of pallid sales, lower footfall, rising costs and thinner profits.

Retailers are working ever harder to maintain let alone grow sales and are responding positively to the challenges that profound structural change brings through innovating and becoming more productive, by investing in new online and logistics capabilities and a higher skilled workforce.

2018 holds a brighter prospect if improvements on the employment and population front continue and if real wage growth resumes.

Of keen interest to the industry this coming year will be the next steps with Brexit and the prospects for Scotland’s economy.

Putting consumers first in the Brexit negotiations and securing a lasting tariff-free trade deal with the EU is imperative, and will help retailers to keep down prices in shops. It will ensure that ordinary shoppers aren’t hit with the cost of unwanted new tariffs.

There needs to be a much more thorough debate in 2018 about how our governments will help stimulate private sector growth and about the boundaries of regulatory intervention in the economy.

Lifting private sector investment will be key. The switch to using the CPI measure of inflation for next spring’s uplift in business rates is a positive step, but government-imposed costs continue to escalate and are increasingly difficult to absorb. This results in firms diverting cash and resources away from growing the business.

For example, firms here in Scotland have little ability to claim back the money they fork out in apprenticeship levy, unlike their counterparts in England. The large business rates supplement remains higher here than down south, and we now find government is considering a new Scotland-only supplementary rates levy on retail warehouses and out-of-town retail premises. Ministers are also pressing ahead with a deposit return scheme for drinks bottles, but with little sense as to the cost to consumers or businesses.

AThe implications for consumer spending from the decision to dip into consumers’ pockets to the tune of £164 million in extra income taxes remains to be seen, but less money in consumers’ pockets will cause shoppers to carefully consider what purchases they can afford.

If government fluffs the opportunity to bear down on the costs of doing business and the cost of living over the coming year then it risks failing to stem the decline in retail jobs and shops, especially in our more economically fragile communities.

Every policy should be tested against a simple benchmark – will it make Scotland the best place for retailers to invest and expand.

David Lonsdale,  director, Scottish Retail Consortium

Child safety online


Our charity, NSPCC, and mobile phone operator O2 are urging parents to make online safety a priority if their children have received smartphones, tablets or game consoles this Christmas.

A survey of 442 parents of five to 10-year-olds found that 46 per cent don’t have parental controls set up on internet-enabled devices used by their children and only 30 per cent have them installed through their home broadband.

Overall just 29 per cent said they were confident that the online parental controls they had in place for their children were sufficient.

The NSPCC and O2 joined forces in 2015 with the aim of helping parents keep their children safe online.

The online world can be full of fun and wonder for children and no doubt tablets, smart phones and games consoles will have featured on many Christmas lists this year. But the internet is not without its risks for children who can stumble across inappropriate content or even become victims of online abuse.

That is why it is vital that every parent who has bought an internet-connected device this Christmas sets up parental controls to help protect their children from online risks. It’s also a good idea for parents to have regular conversations with their children about staying safe online and how to report something that upsets them.

For help on a specific issue, call experts at the O2 and NSPCC Online Safety Helpline – 0808 800 5002.

Tony Stower, head of child safety online, NSPCC