I AM immensely proud to take on the ministerial portfolio for Environment and Climate Change, as it is a great honour to serve the people of Scotland in such an important role.
I hope I can build on the good work of my predecessor, Stewart Stevenson, at an exciting time for all those who have an interest in Scotland’s outstanding natural environment.
I have been overwhelmed by the warm and generous welcome I have received to my new post and the many invitations to meet people and visit projects across the country – from the South of Scotland in particular.
This is a portfolio I am passionate about, not least because, as a parent, I understand it is about the kind of world we leave for our children. It is, of course, also about how we ensure food security and balance environmental and economic objectives to share this planet, of which we are mere custodians, in a responsible way.
That’s why for many years I have been a supporter of local efforts to conserve the environment. As a former community councillor, I volunteered for tree weeding at Pease Dean, Cockburnspath, and litter picking and tree and hedge planting at Ayton. I have also campaigned for improved low carbon public transport in rural areas, such as a new rail halt for East Berwickshire. I’ve taken a keen interest in fisheries issues and attended meetings of the Anglo-Scottish Fisherman’s Association.
When I was elected in May last year, I was honoured to serve as a parliamentary liaison officer (aide) to Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead and my predecessor, Stewart Stevenson. That role allowed me to broaden my knowledge, and engage with many stakeholders. It also allowed me to speak out on climate justice and tackling climate change. I have attended local and national meetings with the National Farmers Union Scotland, Scottish Tenant Farmers Association and Scottish Land and Estates. I have also engaged, in Parliament, in exploring how to promote South of Scotland food produce and food tourism.
I join the Scottish Government as rural Scotland is facing many challenges. The Scottish Borders, Midlothian, East Lothian, Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway all support premium farmland that produces some of our finest meat, dairy products and crops. I live near Eyemouth and I am well aware that fishermen from ports such as Eyemouth and Dunbar deliver Scotland’s delicious and internationally sought-after seafood. However without the right support from the EU, this way of life is at risk, as I have highlighted in my contributions to parliamentary debates.
Responding to the effects of climate change are not only a national and international challenge, but a local one. Recent unpredictable weather and flooding in Borders towns brings this home to us. That’s why Scotland has put in place world-leading climate change targets, with our target of generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020.
As a resident of the Scottish Borders, I fully acknowledge this important objective must also be achieved in a way that remains sensitive to concerns regarding cumulative impact, and this issue has been addressed by updated guidance from Scottish National Heritage.
Scotland is home to some of the most diverse and beautiful wildlife in the world. As chair of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland, I am looking forward to getting involved in the conservation of our wildlife. The Red Squirrels in South Scotland Project (RSSS) has maintained southern Scotland as a stronghold for the species, while the Tweed Foundation has been doing great work to ensure its river system and freshwater fish stocks are restored to health.
In the coming months, I look forward to travelling throughout Scotland, meeting organisations such as RSSS and the Tweed Foundation, and all those who are doing such a great job protecting our wildlife and ensuring they and their habitats continue to thrive.