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28 June 2012

(S4O-01182) Raptor Populations

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con): 4. To ask the Scottish Executive how it assesses the population of raptor species across Scotland and how this information is recorded and published. (S4O-01182)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Information on the number and breeding performance of the 19 species of raptor and owl that regularly breed in Scotland is co-ordinated annually by Scottish Natural Heritage and collated under the Scottish raptor monitoring scheme. There is a link to the information from the SRMS on the Scottish Natural Heritage website.

Alex Johnstone: I thank the minister for that answer and for the written answer that I received yesterday on a related subject. The minister will be aware that there is a growing number of reports of attacks by large avian predators on livestock. That was brought home to me by a constituent, Mrs Moyra Gray of Glendye, who successfully filmed a golden eagle attacking a lamb—although, happily, the attack was fought off by a particularly vociferous blackface ewe. Will the minister give an undertaking that, in what is a difficult situation, he will ensure that there is accurate and independent recording of populations of large avian predators and of reports of attacks on livestock to ensure that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, we begin to address the issue of how farmers might be appropriately compensated for what I believe are increasing losses?

Stewart Stevenson: I take the member’s general point that any actions that Government takes should be evidence based. No one would disagree with that. We certainly want to understand the nature of the issue. It was interesting that, yesterday, a film was released of a buzzard taking an osprey chick, which shows that sometimes there are issues between raptor species and not simply issues for animals for which humans are responsible. I am certainly always interested to have more information so that we can better inform our decisions.

14 June 2012

(S4O-01138) Water Framework Directive

Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP): 10. To ask the Scottish Government what progress it is making towards meeting the goals of the water framework directive. (S4O-01138)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The directive requires member states to have river basin management plans to manage the water environment. We are halfway through the first cycle of producing plans and 63 per cent of Scotland’s water bodies are at “good” status or better.

Nigel Don: I welcome the progress that has been made. How will improving water be considered in the context of the review of spending priorities for the Scottish rural development programme?

Stewart Stevenson: Improving water quality is one of the key objectives for the next SRDP. Water policy officials are fully engaged in the development process to ensure that we deliver on improving Scotland’s water quality objectives.

(S4O-01137) Seafield Waste Water Treatment Works

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (Lab): 9. To ask the Scottish Government how many complaints were made about the Seafield waste water treatment works in the monitoring year following completion of the odour improvement plan. (S4O-01137)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): In the monitoring year that ended on 1 June 2012, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency received one complaint, Scottish Water received 21 complaints and City of Edinburgh Council received 243 complaints. Many complaints related to a specific incident in March, in relation to which remedial measures have been put in place.

Malcolm Chisholm: Given the large number of complaints, despite the fact that option A in the odour improvement plan was supposed to take more than 90 per cent of the local community out of the odour zone, and given the particular failure of option A to deal with peaks of solid effluent coming into the plant, does the Government accept that further investment will be required, and is it ready to take account of that in future financial allocations to Scottish Water?

Stewart Stevenson: Scottish Water has been receiving some £110 million each year, which is a substantial investment. The most recent odour problems have been caused by a winter that was substantially drier than normal, which led to a build-up. A specific issue to do with incorrect storage of sludge in contravention of the site’s odour management plan has been addressed.

(S4O-01136) Canals (Environmental Improvements)

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab): 8. To ask the Scottish Executive what work it is doing to improve the local environment around the canal network. (S4O-01136)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): We provide British Waterways Scotland with Scottish Government grant support of £10 million per year. British Waterways works closely with partners across Scotland to make a significant and positive impact. An example is the Helix Trust project, which attracted funding of £25 million from the Big Lottery Fund and transformed around 350 hectares of underused land into vibrant new parkland.

Sarah Boyack: I very much welcome the minister’s answer. In Edinburgh, the Fountainbridge canalside initiative has been formed by local enthusiasts to promote better environmental quality, an urban orchard, allotments and increased biodiversity. What support is available to help such groups to progress their plans and bring them to fruition?

Stewart Stevenson: I very much share Sarah Boyack’s interest in canals. In urban settings such as Fountainbridge there are big opportunities to improve the environment by using the canal as an anchor point. Partnership working with British Waterways Scotland, which is well used to working directly with a range of community bodies, is the most appropriate approach.

(S4O-01134) Public Bodies Climate Change Duty

Gavin Brown (Lothian) (Con): 6. To ask the Scottish Executive how it is meeting its climate change public sector duty to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change. (S4O-01134)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Officials in the energy and climate change directorate lead work to co-ordinate the Scottish Government’s own compliance with the duties in part 4 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. That includes both operational action and appropriate policy responses, as set out in the guidance that the Scottish Government published in February last year to assist all public bodies in complying with the duties. Particular progress has been achieved in embedding carbon emissions reduction measures across the operation of the estate, and in improving governance, target setting, reporting, public engagement and acting sustainably—for example, through sustainable procurement.

Gavin Brown: I have looked at the minutes of the public sector climate action group, which the minister chairs, I think. It is stated in those minutes that

“Zero Waste and Sustainable Procurement are to be taken forward at a lower level of priority”.

Can the minister expand on that statement?

Stewart Stevenson: I chair that group jointly with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities environment representative. That representative will be someone new, as the previous one was not re-elected.

What Gavin Brown has read, of course, reflects how relative priorities will change over time as progress is made on activities, and we move our primary focus to areas in which greater attention is required. That is an example of progress having been made and of a refocusing on areas in which progress is less satisfactory.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP): How are local authorities performing in contributing to meeting climate change targets? In particular, how is Glasgow City Council performing? Following an Audit Scotland report in 2010-11, that council was shown to have the worst record of all 32 local authorities.

Stewart Stevenson: The guidance on public bodies’ duties is very clear, and it applies to all public bodies—including all Scotland’s councils. All the councils, including Glasgow City Council, signed a declaration in 2007 to work on that subject. It is, of course, for Glasgow City Council to determine how it delivers on that aim, but I certainly expect every council and every public body to demonstrate significant progress now. I am disappointed to hear what James Dornan has reported.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab): Will the Scottish Government undertake an assessment of the overall progress of the public sector under all three parts of the public sector duties? If so, how will that be done and when will the results be published?

Stewart Stevenson: We monitor all the activities from the 21 reporting streams under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. That progress is monitored in significant part through the COSLA and Government joint body, to which I already referred. For the time being, that appears to be the best way of tracking what is happening in local authorities.

(S4O-01132) Water Pollution

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): 4. To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to tackle water pollution. (S4O-01132)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Scotland’s river basin management plans include a range of measures to protect Scotland’s water environment from pollution. The Scottish Government is working closely with key stakeholders on the implementation of the plans.

Claire Baker: Concerns have been expressed by constituents in Kinglassie in Fife about pollution in the Lochty Burn. Locals have worked hard to improve their local environment and to make it an attractive waterway to the village, but their efforts have been hindered by recent pollution of the burn by iron deposits, possibly from old coal mines. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is working with the Scottish Coal Company to investigate the issue, but it has been doing so for over a year and we are no further forward. Will the minister raise those concerns with SEPA? Will he ensure that SEPA is adequately resourced and has robust strategies in place to deal with water pollution arising from Scotland’s industrial past?

Stewart Stevenson: I say briefly that I am happy to raise the issue with SEPA and to ensure that I am informed on this clearly very important but local issue. On SEPA’s resources, it has become a very effective organisation and the way in which it now discharges its responsibilities means that we probably have better coverage than we have had for many years.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will the minister join me in welcoming Scottish Water’s best practice incentive scheme, which seeks to protect water supply quality, for example at Loch Ascog on Bute? Could that scheme be extended elsewhere?

Stewart Stevenson: I know that Scottish Water takes environmental issues extremely seriously. As Jamie McGrigor does, I very much welcome the publication of best practice, and I welcome the news about what is going on in Bute, of which he has just apprised me. I will certainly look into extension of that scheme to other parts of Scotland.

(S4O-01129) Proposed Water Framework and Industrial Emissions Directives

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): 1. To ask the Scottish Government what representations it has received regarding the impact on businesses of the proposed water framework and industrial emissions directives. (S4O-01129)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Government has regular dialogue with businesses over the development and implementation of policy. The water framework directive is a well-established policy and officials recently met the chemical industry and others as part of our development of a forthcoming consultation on the implementation of the industrial emissions directive.

Angus MacDonald: Some concern has been expressed recently by industries in my constituency regarding timescales for implementation of both directives. Given that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said a few months ago that the impact on industry would be minimal, will the minister highlight to his United Kingdom Government counterpart and European Union officials the fact that, given that the current economic downturn is creating significant challenges in the petrochemical and agrochemical industries and the fact that the costs involved in implementing the directives can be considerable, there has to be a degree of give and take—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Mr MacDonald, I need a question.

Angus MacDonald: Will the minister ask that industries that require extra time be given it in order to comply with the directives?

Stewart Stevenson: As recently as 19 April, I wrote to the UK Government to support the UK negotiating strategy on the implementation, and asking that it be proportionate and that timescales be appropriate in order to avoid unnecessary and disproportionate cost.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): The Scottish Government’s consultation document on proposals for an integrated framework of environmental regulation says that, in order for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to become the sort of regulator that we need, consideration should be given to having a single permitting procedure which, it is argued, will simplify the range of current procedures. Can the minister clarify what sort of procedures we need? In the week of the Rio+20 conference, can he assure us that there will be no risk of private enterprises being able to opt out of regulation and being able to undertake their own regulation of our natural resources—specifically, water?

Stewart Stevenson: It is up to private enterprises to obey the law and regulations. To that extent, they have to be internally self-regulating, and everyone in the company has to understand that. The role of bodies such as SEPA in regulation is in inspecting those processes and the outcomes. None of the changes that we are considering will change the basic principles of the duties within the company, or our role in monitoring what they do in order to deliver the desired outcomes.

31 May 2012

(S4O-01061) Land Reform

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): 3. To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made on land reform. (S4O-01061)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Scottish Government is committed to supporting communities to purchase land and land assets. That is why I was delighted to be able to visit Machrihanish on Monday, where the community has just taken over the former Royal Air Force Machrihanish airbase by using community right-to-buy provisions, with sustained support from the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It is also why the Scottish Government has committed £6 million to the Scottish land fund for the next three years. That will provide communities with the opportunity to take control of their future.

Jean Urquhart: I thank the minister for his response. I think that I asked about land reform, but that might be for another day. What can the minister say about applications to the Scottish land fund?

Stewart Stevenson: The Big Lottery Fund Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise are already building up contacts with potential applicants to the Scottish land fund. They will ensure that groups are fully aware of the new programme and the application process at the time of the launch. It is an integral part of our wide-ranging approach to land reform.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): The minister referred to the interest that has been shown in the Scottish land fund, but we are now entering the third month of the first year of funding and there are still no details available about the precise criteria for use of the fund. When does the minister expect to announce those criteria, and when will the fund be open for business?

Stewart Stevenson: The Scottish land fund will be open for business before the summer recess.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): What assessment have Scottish ministers made of the effectiveness of the Scottish outdoor access code?

Stewart Stevenson: As Jamie McGrigor will recall, the Scottish outdoor access code engaged all the parties in Parliament. It has provided good guidance to people who make use of the access rights under Parliament’s legislation. We are still working our way through the core paths activity, but all the indications are that it is successful legislation, which we were happy to support in its passage through Parliament.

24 May 2012

(S4O-01031) Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961

Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP): 3. To ask the Scottish Government whether a scheme promoted under the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961, which does not yet have confirmed statutory consents, will be eligible for grant support, including beyond the current spending review period, and to a level of 80 per cent of eligible costs. (S4O-01031)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities agreed last year that the flooding component of the general capital grant for the spending review period would be distributed for large schemes and by application. The first round prioritised confirmed Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961 schemes with planning consent. An announcement regarding a further round of applications is likely to be made towards the end of this year.

Nigel Don: The minister will be well aware that my concern is about the flood prevention scheme in Brechin in my constituency. What assurances can the minister give that, as that scheme and the many others like it in Scotland get the appropriate consents, money will be available, subject to the 80 per cent limit and the availability of funds?

Stewart Stevenson: I need to be careful, because there is a planning issue. I understand that there is an objection to the flood prevention scheme to which the member refers and which the council in the area has submitted. It is important that, through that process and the planning system, we make progress towards a scheme that is implementable. I am willing to talk further when the process is complete and we have a scheme that can be implemented. Of course, it will be necessary for the scheme to demonstrate a positive cost benefit ratio, and the commencement of the scheme will have to be within the spending review period.

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): In view of on-going concerns about flooding in parts of my region such as at Whitesands in Dumfries and in Peebles, can the minister give the Parliament details about Scottish Government research projects on flooding and say how those will help with flooding mitigation in the south of Scotland and more broadly in Scotland, and how that connects with the land-use strategy?

Stewart Stevenson
: For the first time we have a national picture of the distribution and potential effects of floods, which will help us to focus resources where they will be required and target our efforts on areas where the greatest benefit can be gained.

The member is correct to make a link to land use. Part of what we will do in that context is to look at the role of natural flooding to relieve water pressures on urban and developed areas that are affected by flooding. The natural systems that can help us will therefore form part of our consideration under the land-use heading.

17 May 2012

(S4O-01000) New Farming Entrants

Nanette Milne (North East Scotland) (Con): 2. To ask the Scottish Executive what progress has been made on increasing the number of new farming entrants. (S4O-01000)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Government has always put a high priority on encouraging new entrants to farming. We were the first Administration to introduce dedicated new entrant support which, so far, has delivered £1.1 million of support to 65 new entrants. Earlier this year, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment announced a new advice package for new entrants that is now being developed by the Scottish Agricultural College. In addition, the cabinet secretary intends to make an announcement soon on plans to hold a new entrant summit and to set up a new entrant panel to determine what can be done under the future common agricultural policy to encourage new entrants.

Nanette Milne: I thank the minister for his response, although I am slightly puzzled by part of it. From my regular meetings with farming representatives, I know that they are very concerned at what is becoming an ageing industry and at the limited opportunities for newer young entrants into it. In the previous parliamentary session, ministers promised to introduce a £10 million year-on-year new entrant scheme; however, in reality, the Scottish National Party delivered only a £10 million programme over the course of the whole session of Parliament, which provided limited new opportunities for entrants. What steps does the Scottish Government plan to take in this session of Parliament to support new opportunities for the next generation of Scottish farmers? Will the minister agree to report back to Parliament on the number of new entrants who are being assisted as this session goes on?

Stewart Stevenson: I am unhappy to share Nanette Milne’s concern and to agree that the increasing age of farmers is an issue for the industry. From 2000 to 2007, the number of farmers aged under 45 fell and the number aged over 65 rose from 22 per cent to 27 per cent. A fundamental challenge that is in front of us is common agricultural policy reform, and the current proposals would inhibit our ability to support new entrants. It is very important that Scotland gets the support to address the issue of new entrants that it requires from the United Kingdom Government which, for the time being, has the lead in negotiating on the matter.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): Does the minister agree that, although the measures that he has identified are welcome, a fundamental issue for new entrants is access to farming land and tenancies? The tenant farming forum is identified as the body that will deal with such concerns, but does the minister accept that the recent Moonzie case and the lack of clarity about its consequences add greater tension to the discussions? How will he ensure that we can be confident that the tenant farming forum’s recommendations will be fair to all parties that are involved?

Stewart Stevenson: Presiding Officer, you will be aware that I cannot comment on a live case.

I am happy to say that we have been legislating to put into law the tenant farming forum’s recommendations. We will continue to work with that forum to ensure that we get increased access to new entrant opportunities. For example, Forestry Commission Scotland, for which I am responsible, has created new starter units. Right across Government, we will take every opportunity to create ways in for new entrants.

10 May 2012

(S4O-00992) Walking and Cycling to Work (Glasgow)

Humza Yousaf (Glasgow) (SNP): 4. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking by means of its climate challenge fund to promote walking and cycling to work initiatives in Glasgow. (S4O-00992)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I recently announced the successful projects to receive funding from round 9 of the climate challenge fund. That included four projects totalling over £1.5 million in Glasgow that contained an element of sustainable transport. Projects included an award to the Glasgow bike station of just under £450,000 over three years for their a better way to work Glasgow project.

Humza Yousaf: I thank the minister for his response and welcome the grants that are coming to Glasgow. I suppose that it is important that cycling and walking initiatives are supported. We know that their benefits are a boost to health and fitness, the reducing of stress and the saving of money, all three of which would probably benefit us all. Has the Government considered a cycle hire scheme with docks at train or subway stations, Commonwealth games venues or throughout the city to encourage more Glaswegians to get active and fit?

Stewart Stevenson: I have seen successful schemes of that kind in Brussels and London. It would be a matter for Glasgow City Council to pursue. During the next three years, we will invest more than £20 million in active travel projects and I would be happy for the Government to work with Glasgow City Council on that.

Anne McTaggart (Glasgow) (Lab): I applaud the Government’s work in creating the climate challenge fund. How much of the fund will be spent on plugging the gap that was created by the cuts to the active travel budget?

Stewart Stevenson: The climate challenge fund is about innovation and projects, so it is important that we focus on that. The example that was given in the original question is an example of real innovation. I cannot anticipate what the independent panel will recommend to ministers, but that sounds like the kind of project that should be pursued.

(S4O-00990) Salmon Farming (Sea Lice)

Graeme Pearson (South Scotland) (Lab): 2. To ask the Scottish Executive what action it will take to meet the international goals agreed in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization “Guidance on Best Management Practices to address impacts of sea lice and escaped salmon on wild salmon stocks”. (S4O-00990)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I refer the member to written answer S4W-06830, which was published in the daily written answers report on 30 April 2012 and which states:

“The Scottish Government has supported, and continues to support, the sustainable development of the aquaculture industry and wild salmon and recreational fisheries in Scotland.

The draft report does not fully take into account the measures that the Scottish Government has taken, and continues to take, to address the issues highlighted. Examples include the continued work of the Improved Containment Working Group and proposals included in the recent Aquaculture and Fisheries Bill Consultation document. We are considering the way forward in light of responses to the bill consultation.”—[Official Report, Written Answers, 30 April 2012; S4W-06830.]

Graeme Pearson: As the minister will be aware, NASCO utilises four focus area reports in monitoring this issue and, according to its recent report,

“progress towards achieving the international goals for sea lice and containment”

had not been demonstrated in Scotland. Does the minister recognise that the reporting of lice levels on individual farms is fundamental in demonstrating progress towards achieving the international goals for sea lice?

Stewart Stevenson: In my time as minister responsible for wild salmon and recreational fisheries and, of course, aquaculture, I have sought to promote dialogue between the interests that have to share the same ecological space. I am therefore very pleased to report that as a result of a series of workshops that we have run, and because of the way in which we have worked, the different sectors are now talking to each other. For example, the wild salmon and recreational fisheries industry has sat down with the aquaculture industry to examine the sea lice data that is collected in considerable detail. That is a substantial step forward. That data is collected and published in aggregate, and I am optimistic that we will find the right balance that will enable us to continue to drive sea lice infestation down from what are, in world terms, already very low levels to even lower levels and ensure that there is even less interaction between wild salmon and the aquaculture industry.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): What is the Scottish Government doing to encourage an integrated system of fallowing of fin fish cage sites in sea lochs? Has it taken note of the fact that wild salmon and sea trout stocks in particular west coast areas are declining while east coast stocks appear to be rising?

Stewart Stevenson: Taking the second question first, I point out that the reduction in stocks is specific to specific rivers. Stocks are rising in some west coast areas and falling in others, but those trends are simply an extension of trends that were in evidence before any farms were established.

On the issue of fallowing, our recent consultation, responses to which we are now analysing, sought views on management areas for estuaries or lochs shared by a number of operators to ensure synchronised fallowing. In taking forward that proposal, we must work with the industry. As long as they serve the public good, I would very much like voluntary agreements to be reached in different areas—after all, they help us by keeping us out of the picture. Fallowing is certainly a very important part of the armoury in dealing with sea lice.

2 May 2012

(S4O-00947) Emergency Towing Vessel Service (Pentland Firth)

Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): 9. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in light of the United Kingdom Government’s decision not to renew the contract for the emergency towing vessel service in the Pentland Firth and other northern waters. (S4O-00947)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Emergency towing vessels are crucial to protect mariners and the marine environment. We have urged the UK Government to continue to provide cover until a suitable alternative solution can be identified and put in place. Although we are pleased at the positive engagement that we have had with Oil and Gas UK on a potential solution for the northern isles, it is imperative that any transition to a new arrangement does not involve a gap in provision. The UK Government must also ensure that cover is in place for the Western Isles and the Minches.

Richard Lochhead recently wrote to Mike Penning MP on the issue, and will also raise it with David Mundell MP at the Scotland Office.

Jean Urquhart: Does the minister agree with me that, to understand precisely the service that is required, it will be necessary to fully consult all the other rescue services and the maritime industries, that that would be best done by the Scottish Government and that funding should be returned from Westminster to allow that to happen?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree that it is essential that all maritime interests and industries are fully considered in any future proposals. The Scotland Office is leading on the issue and I assure members that the Scottish Government is engaged in the discussions.

The UK Government has consistently made it clear to us that the matter is reserved. We, in turn, have also been clear that if no commercial option is available, it is the UK Government’s responsibility to fund provision of the service.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD): Does the minister accept that the current contract for emergency vessels is a great deal for salvage companies but absolutely terrible for Scottish taxpayers? Does he therefore recognise that the pursuit of the shared use of an alternative vessel is a sensible and constructive way to keep the seas safe, as Lord Donaldson originally wished? Does the Scottish Government plan to work with Scottish local authorities, the UK Government and the oil and gas industry to ensure that we achieve that shared objective?

Stewart Stevenson: I am glad that Mr Scott referred to a shared objective because that is where we are. The situation that we are in and the vessels that we currently have, as well as the timescale that is pressing us, make it difficult to find a vessel that would be suitable for all purposes.

I hope that the UK Government continues to work with the industry in a meaningful way, and that the industry is also able to help us. I also hope that all levels of government get engaged in this important issue. However, I have to say to the member that, if we had the independent powers of a normal country, we would have solved the problem long since.

(S4O-00941) Agricultural Rent Reviews

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): 3. To ask the Scottish Executive what action it will take as a result of the Court of Session judgment on the Moonzie Farm rent review case in relation to section 13 rent reviews to ensure that the views of tenant farmers and tenants are taken into consideration. (S4O-00941)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): My colleague, the cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead, has already given an undertaking to stakeholders that he will look at the issues raised by the Moonzie case and, if necessary, tackle any problems by introducing further legislation.

The Tenant Farming Forum has been asked to assist in reviewing the position. It is scheduled to meet at the end of May to finalise the remit and membership of the rent review expert working group. Among other things, the panel of experts will look at the statutory formula for rent reviews and consider whether any changes are necessary.

Claudia Beamish: I thank the minister for his clarification on that matter from the perspective of the Scottish Executive and the cabinet secretary.

The minister may be aware that The Scottish Farmer recently stated that

“tenants are now citing the whole protracted Moonzie guddle as proof positive that the current rent review system is ‘patently not fit for the 21st century’.”

I ask for further reassurance that the minister and the cabinet secretary will consider the issue so that there can be clarity for tenants and landlords in what has been an extremely protracted and expensive case.

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes some perfectly reasonable points. There is a substantial divergence of opinion among the stakeholders involved in the issue about how we should take it forward, which is why we are setting up an expert group to discuss it. We will have that established before the end of this month—unless some hiccup occurs, which I do not anticipate.

The issue is complex—the Moonzie case illustrates that if it illustrates anything. We are motivated to give greater certainty and ensure that tenants have a fair rent.

(S4O-00940) Agricultural Support (Map Scale)

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD): 2. To ask the Scottish Executive what map scale is used to assess land eligible for agricultural support under the integrated administration and control system 2012. (S4O-00940)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The mapping scale used to assess land eligible for agricultural support under the integrated administration and control system 2012 is based on the Ordnance Survey’s MasterMap topography layer and is 1:2,500 in rural areas and 1:10,000 in mountain and moorland areas.

Tavish Scott: Is the minister aware that a Shetland farmer faces potential financial ruin because of the IACS penalty regime? The National Farmers Union Scotland has told me that that farmer is not alone, and the union is in active discussions on solutions to the issue. Will the minister ensure that his department and the industry agree on the scale of maps to be used on an individual farm or croft? Will the Scottish Government, until that agreement is in place, consider introducing a moratorium to stop the unfair and entirely disproportionate penalties hitting crofters and farmers, not just in Shetland, but across Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: We issue maps to other scales, where the original map may be to the scales that I have referred to. In relation to a series of ways in which individual farmers may mitigate the effects of errors, I am quite prepared—I am meeting the member this afternoon on another matter—to provide some further information to the member.

Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP): Will the minister explain whether there was any discussion by the previous Labour-Liberal Government, or the Scottish National Party Government, with Ordnance Survey on a process to ensure that accurate maps on every part of Scotland are available so that the current problems would not arise?

Stewart Stevenson: I am not in a position to have access to all the discussions that previous Administrations may have had. I am not aware of such discussions having taken place since the baseline nearly a decade ago.

22 March 2012

(S4O-00836) Forth Estuary (Contaminated Water)

Colin Keir (Edinburgh Western) (SNP): 8. To ask the Scottish Government what the environmental impact on the Forth estuary was of the leak of contaminated water near South Queensferry on 14 November 2011 and what action has been taken to mitigate it. (S4O-00836)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): A range of countermeasures were deployed during and following the incident near South Queensferry on 14 November to mitigate any environmental impact, and samples that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency gathered show that there has been no significant impact on the water environment as a result of the leak. BP is currently finalising a report on the incident, which will consider the need for further action to restore the watercourse and land fully to their previous condition. SEPA will examine any such proposals in due course and will continue to review BP’s activities at the site.

Colin Keir: Will the minister clarify what remedial measures are being taken by BP and what steps are being taken to ensure that improvements to testing regimes are implemented and that any learning points are acted on?

Stewart Stevenson: The most important thing at this stage is to highlight the fact that a warning was issued by SEPA to BP as a result of the incident. If the agreed remedial actions or necessary improvements in testing regimes are not undertaken, it is possible that SEPA will take further enforcement action. I hope that that gives the member the reassurance that he seeks.

(S4O-00835) Climate Challenge Fund

Jim Eadie (Edinburgh Southern) (SNP): 7. To ask the Scottish Government what progress the climate challenge fund is making in combating climate change by helping local communities to reduce their carbon emissions. (S4O-00835)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): On 13 March, I was pleased to announce that 43 communities have been successful in sharing £6.9 million of awards over the next three financial years. That represents the first intake of applicants since we announced our continued commitment to the Government’s climate challenge fund. We will maintain the funding at the 2011-12 level of £10.3 million per annum over the next three years.

Jim Eadie: As the minister is aware—and as Marco Biagi mentioned earlier—the Bike Station in Causewayside, in my constituency, plays an important role in helping to achieve the Scottish Government’s 2020 target of 10 per cent of all journeys being made by bicycle. Does the minister agree that, beyond the climate challenge fund, all Government departments and local authorities must look for innovative ways of providing and encouraging investment in active travel so that we can all reap the benefits of cycling and walking as healthy, low-carbon forms of transport?

Stewart Stevenson: I agree with the thrust of the member’s question—I suspect that no one in the chamber would disagree. We all have opportunities to weave a little bit of active travel into our busy lives. Yesterday, I had enough time to walk from Haymarket to St Andrew’s house. I thoroughly enjoyed the spring weather, and others can do the same.

Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (Lab): The minister is well aware of the good work that is carried out by the staff and volunteers of the Lambhill stables, in my constituency. By September 2011, they had reduced CO2 emissions by just over 165 tonnes with help from the climate challenge fund. The project submitted a carefully worked-out bid for further help from the climate challenge fund, which would have reduced emissions by a further 600 tonnes, but that bid was rejected by the SNP Government. Can the minister advise what other sources of funding might be made available to that important community initiative?

Stewart Stevenson: The Government has nothing to do with whose applications are accepted or rejected—an independent panel evaluates the projects. However, I have asked that those who have not been successful in the current round of funding be given help to understand why their application might not have met the criteria that the independent panel applied. I hope that that will be helpful in enabling those who have not been successful in round nine of the funding to make submissions in round 10, which is now open for applications.

(S4O-00832) Climate Challenge Fund

John Pentland (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): 4. To ask the Scottish Executive what the total actual reduction in CO2 tonnage has been from projects receiving grants from the climate challenge fund. (S4O-00832)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The reported reduction in CO2 from the climate challenge fund so far is 128,357 tonnes of savings. That figure is from community groups that are in receipt of CCF funding and have submitted final reports for the awards period 2008 to 2011. It by no means represents the total savings that will ultimately be achieved.

John Pentland: Has the minister stopped using the total that is based on estimates for projects, some of which have produced little or no actual savings, despite contributing hundreds of thousands of tonnes to the figures that have been quoted by the First Minister and others?

Stewart Stevenson: I am very optimistic that the mix of projects that we supported through the first eight rounds of the climate challenge fund, and those projects that we will support in round nine, which was announced recently, will give us a substantial figure indeed.

However, I remind members that when I was before committee in the previous parliamentary session, I made the point that not every project would deliver on its promise. We are trying to be innovative and challenging, so we will have projects that succeed—the overwhelming majority—and we will have some that teach us something negative because it is not the way forward. It is important to realise that 100 per cent success will not be achieved. The 700,000 tonne figure that we previously reported is the figure for which we are shooting.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I am glad that the minister emphasises the creative, experimental and empowering nature of the fund. That is exactly what we had in mind when we persuaded the Government to adopt the policy in the first place. What can be done to minimise the risk of projects, including small projects, being left vulnerable when they lose funding at short notice? How can we ensure the sustainability of the projects that are coming through as a result of the CCF?

Stewart Stevenson: I acknowledge Patrick Harvie’s not insignificant role in setting up the climate challenge fund. In considering projects through the panel, which is independent of ministers, we will always seek to identify the projects that have the greatest chance of delivering what they promise. So we have a process to minimise the risk. On the ending of funding, we stress to people to whom we grant funding through the climate challenge fund that it is a time-limited grant with no guarantee of successor funding from the same source or from other sources. The scheme, for which the member should take some of the credit, has been overwhelmingly successful.

(S4O-00831) Air Quality Regulations (Breaches) (Grangemouth)

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): 3. To ask the Scottish Government how many breaches of the sulphur dioxide 15-minute mean objective, as specified in the Air Quality (Scotland) Regulations 2000, have taken place since the Grangemouth air quality management area was declared in November 2005. (S4O-00831)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Between November 2005 and February 2012, 761 exceedances of the objective were recorded across the three air quality monitoring sites in Grangemouth.

A three-year INEOS-led project is expected to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by more than 80 per cent by the end of 2012.

Angus MacDonald: I am sure that the minister will agree with me that any exceedance of the SO2 15-minute mean objective is one breach too many, and 761 is far in excess of that. Although local Grangemouth industry has made some attempt to reduce the number of exceedances, does the minister share the concerns of local residents that a proposed 100MW biomass electricity plant could have a detrimental effect on the air quality in Grangemouth, particularly when the cumulative effect from Longannet and other industrial plants in the area is taken into account?

Stewart Stevenson: I will not comment because of the possible role of Scottish ministers in making planning decisions on any specific proposal. However, the member has brought up a very important matter that decision makers should take account of so that a proper decision can be made in due course.

(S4O-00830) Climate Justice Fund

James Kelly (Rutherglen) (Lab): 2. To ask the Scottish Executive when it will officially launch its climate justice fund. (S4O-00830)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Scottish climate justice fund will be launched as soon as practicable.

James Kelly: I am sure that there is agreement across the chamber on the fund’s objectives. Low-carbon technology can also be used in the battle against climate change in poorer countries and to bring benefits in that respect. What role can good examples of low-carbon technology in Scotland play in other countries?

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to have the member’s support—and, indeed, the support of the chamber—for our climate justice initiatives. Low-carbon technology and helping other countries to develop it form an important part of the agenda. What might seem like a rather simple example of the practical help we can give is a cooking stove designed by, if I recall correctly, Strathclyde University—I might be wrong, but I am pretty sure that that is right—that gives the same thermal input for one quarter of the wood input.

However, I must also sound a brief note of caution: as well as supplying technology, we also need to change human behaviours.

Annabelle Ewing (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP): I am pleased to have participated in the first ever parliamentary debate on climate justice, which took place in our Parliament on 1 March. Will the minister confirm that, when it is rolled out, a key focus of the climate justice programme will be the emphasis on locally led, sustainable programmes, particularly in the agricultural sector?

Stewart Stevenson: Decision making is at an early stage but the climate justice programme should concentrate in the first instance on sectors in which Scotland has particular expertise and it should, in any event, be about sustainable projects with strong local involvement.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Does the minister recognise the United Kingdom Government’s commitment to climate justice? How will the Scottish Government work with the UK Government on the issue to ensure a co-ordinated approach?

Stewart Stevenson: I have found that it is perfectly possible to make common cause with UK ministers. I met Ed Davey, who has taken over as Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, a week past Friday. I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment has also met Ed Davey. We are always happy to work with the UK Government where we can make common cause, and this is an agenda on which we are in substantial agreement.

(S4O-00829) Cycling (Rural Areas)

Anne McTaggart (Glasgow) (Lab): 1. To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to invest in cycling infrastructure to improve take-up rates of active travel. (S4O-00829)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):
We are providing significant investment for cycling infrastructure in Scotland’s urban and rural areas. On 8 February, an additional £20.25 million was announced for infrastructure to support active travel over the next three financial years. That funding is in addition to the £15 million over the next three years in the budget line for wider sustainable and active travel initiatives, a significant proportion of which supports the promotion of active travel across Scotland.

Anne McTaggart: The minister will have read Transport Scotland’s report on transport emissions, which concluded that the Government’s transport policies could lead to an additional 17 kilotonnes entering the atmosphere by 2022. Does he agree that the report makes it even more essential to have the infrastructure in place to encourage increased take-up of sustainable means of travel such as cycling?

Stewart Stevenson: I am pleased to say that increasing numbers of our civil servants appear to be cycling; certainly one who directly reports to ministers regularly appears with his cycling hat firmly under his arm. We want to continue to encourage walking and cycling as very important health-giving elements of active travel and to see that they are taken up by more people.

Marco Biagi (Edinburgh Central) (SNP): Will the minister provide some insight into the potential use of the climate challenge fund to support take-up of active travel in rural and urban areas? One example that I am familiar with is the Bike Station, which sits on the boundary between the Edinburgh Central and Edinburgh Southern constituency. Might such initiatives provide scope for further support around Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: The Bike Station is an excellent example of work involving people in the community. Indeed, I visited it three and a half years ago and plan to visit it again soon to see what progress it has made in its initiatives. I am happy to update the member when I have had those discussions.

(S4O-00822) Machrihanish Airbase Community Company

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): 4. To ask the Scottish Executive what support it is providing to the Machrihanish Airbase Community Company. (S4O-00822)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): The Scottish Government is committed to supporting rural communities in acquiring land to help to build independent, resilient and flourishing communities across Scotland. Through advice and financial assistance, we have been supporting the Machrihanish Airbase Community Company to achieve its aim of buying the former Royal Air Force base at Machrihanish. We are working closely with the Ministry of Defence to take forward improvements to the water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure at the base.

Jamie McGrigor: I thank the minister for that reply, but he will be aware of concerns over problems with the water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure. What support is the Scottish Government giving MACC to tackle those problems and encourage the development of what could be a dynamic and economically important site for green excellence and a great economic opportunity for the people of Campbeltown and Kintyre?

Stewart Stevenson: We should be happy with the progress that is being made. I note the explicit request, following a meeting of the Kintyre initiative working group on 24 February, for continuing support, which we are giving. However, there was also a specific request that there should be no running commentary on the detail of negotiations at this sensitive time. The constituency member—Mr Russell—has respected that request, and I strongly urge Mr McGrigor to do the same.

9 February 2012

(S4O-00687) Emissions Reductions (2020 Target)

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab): 9. To ask the Scottish Executive what progress it is making in meeting its targets for reducing emissions by 2020. (S4O-00687)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):
The latest available data shows that in 2009 Scotland’s emissions had fallen by two thirds of the target from 1990, ahead of the targets for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

In March 2011, the Government published its first statutory report on proposals and policies. We plan to publish a second report on proposals and policies in 2012, which will set out the path for delivery of the emissions reduction targets from 2023 to 2027. We will refine the policies that were detailed in the first RPP and continue to develop proposals.

Neil Bibby: The minister will be aware of the report by the independent Committee on Climate Change, which questions whether those targets will be met and points out that it is likely that emissions rose in 2010. What effect will the recent progress report from the Committee on Climate Change have on the Scottish Government’s future policies and proposals?

Stewart Stevenson: We had a very encouraging report from the committee, which highlighted what we already knew about the nature of the challenges. One thing that has happened in the recent past is particularly relevant to Scotland. At Durban we got an agreement that the Kyoto protocol would change in respect of peatlands, so we will now be able to incorporate in our numbers our work on rewetting peatlands, including any work that has taken place since 1990. Given that we have a huge proportion of Europe’s peatlands and are already investing money in rewetting peatlands in the north of Scotland, that is a very helpful addition to the range of interventions that we have and which we can take credit for.

(S4O-00685) Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Enforcement Powers)

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): 7. To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to ensure that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency uses the enforcement powers that it has. (S4O-00685)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):
As part of its strategic oversight of SEPA, the Scottish Government works closely with the agency to ensure that agreed objectives are met and that it implements sound policies and procedures, including effective enforcement arrangements, that protect Scotland’s environment. SEPA’s strong framework for ensuring appropriate use of its enforcement powers includes an enforcement policy that defines how and when enforcement mechanisms will be applied, and detailed guidance for front-line regulatory teams to enable them to carry out their duties proportionately and consistently.

Angus MacDonald: The minister will be aware that, two weeks ago, the cabinet secretary visited the Avondale landfill site in my constituency. The site has enjoyed significant investment in its new waste transfer facility, but the minister might not be aware of significant disquiet in the nearby Polmont community about the smell that regularly emanates from the site. At the other end of my constituency, the west Carron landfill site, which is run by another operator, has also caused anger in the local community. How will the minister ensure that SEPA uses the powers that it has been given to ensure that local residents are not further inconvenienced by these landfill sites?

Stewart Stevenson: It is up to SEPA to decide when and how it uses its enforcement powers in line with statutory functions. I am aware that it is working on the significant concerns in Avondale and west Carron and engaging with interested parties to ensure that everyone is kept aware of progress.

SEPA is working with the operators of both sites and improvements are being made to Avondale’s gas management systems to address odour concerns. However, the agency has indicated that if satisfactory progress is not made in that respect, more formal action will be taken.

(S4O-00682) Air Quality (Glasgow)

Humza Yousaf (Glasgow) (SNP): 4. To ask the Scottish Government what progress is being made on reducing nitrogen dioxide levels and improving air quality in Glasgow. (S4O-00682)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):
Glasgow City Council has produced an air quality action plan that contains a comprehensive list of measures for improving air quality in the city. The council is working closely with the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland and other partners to implement the plan.

Humza Yousaf: When does the minister expect low emission zones to be introduced in Glasgow? What impact does he anticipate they will have on air quality during the 2014 Commonwealth games?

Stewart Stevenson: Low emission zones will be introduced around venues before the games and will be in place for the duration of the games. They should ensure that there is a reduction in pollution due to vehicle emissions in those areas. Monitoring of air quality is taking place at venues in the run-up to the games to ensure that we have comparable data. Both the Government and the council are confident that there will be no impact on the games.

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): Serious concerns are being raised about the lack of progress on air quality in some Scottish cities, including Perth in my region. Scotland has breached European air pollution targets for the second year in a row. The Scottish Government, as part of the United Kingdom Government’s request to the European Commission, is asking for an extension of air quality targets, including an extension of 10 years for Glasgow. Is the expectation that the request will be accepted on the ground that all reasonable efforts have been made? If so, what will be the consequences for residents’ health? Finally, what are the consequences of breaching the targets? Does the Scottish Government foresee possible infraction proceedings?

Stewart Stevenson: The whole of Scotland is expected to comply with the limit values by 2015, with the exception of the missing link on the M8 between Newhouse and Baillieston, east of Glasgow. Within the city of Glasgow area, there are expected to be no exceedances of the limit values by 2015. On the remaining area on the M8, Transport Scotland is estimating completion by 2017-18.

(S4O-00681) Environmental Policy (2011 Interim Performance Targets)

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab): 3. To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will meet the 2011 interim environmental performance targets set out in its environmental policy. (S4O-00681)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):
The 2010-11 data regarding the Scottish Government’s environmental performance is presently being compiled and will be published when available. However, previous reports have shown that good progress is being made in reducing business travel, and we are on track to meet our 2020 target to reduce the volume of waste material produced. We remain committed to improving the Scottish Government’s overall environmental impact.

Sarah Boyack: I welcome the progress that has been made, but I ask the minister specifically about energy consumption. The most recent environmental performance report published by the Government, in November last year, said that the Scottish Government is less than a third of the way to its 12.6 per cent target for March 2012, even taking into account the fact that some buildings were empty for part of the period. What is the minister doing to ensure that the Scottish Government catches up and meets its target by next month?

Stewart Stevenson: We are making significant progress. We are committed to reducing the size of our estate, and expect to have done so by 25 per cent by 2016. Already, 83 per cent of the electricity that is used in the core Scottish Government estate is from renewable sources, so we are making the kind of progress that members can reasonably expect.

(S4O-00680) Forestry Development (Upland Grazing Interests)

Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP): 2. To ask the Scottish Government what progress has been made to accommodate upland grazing interests and forestry development targets. (S4O-00680)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Cabinet secretary.

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Minister.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I beg your pardon, minister.

Stewart Stevenson: Late advice from us, I think. I apologise, Presiding Officer.

We have established a woodland expansion advisory group to provide advice on which types of land are best for tree planting in Scotland, in the context of other land-based objectives. The group, which includes members from the farming sector, is giving careful consideration to the potential impact of woodland expansion on upland grazing. The group has recently concluded a public consultation exercise, and will be running regional stakeholder meetings later this month. It will report in June.

Rob Gibson: Given the considerable fall in sheep stock throughout Scotland over several years, has there been a measurable pressure on existing upland grazings from forestry development? Has the Forestry Commission bought former sheep farms that have been on the market for some time? Can today’s limited number of sheep, which are of higher value, continue to be reared successfully on the upland grazings that are available at present?

Stewart Stevenson: The decline in sheep numbers has not been uniform throughout the country—having been at its highest in the north and west—and there is still demand for upland grazing for sheep in some areas of the country.

Through Forest Enterprise Scotland, the Forestry Commission has planted nearly 2,500 hectares over the past three years. However, the woodland expansion advisory group will look at the issue in more detail and, as I indicated in my first answer, will report in June.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Does the minister agree that upland grazing pastures are often critical to the local biosphere and, from the point of view of biodiversity, are preferable to big plantations of sitka spruce?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes. Biodiversity is an important issue for us. In upland areas and grazing pastures, there is often greater biodiversity than in the relative monoculture of the plantations that the member describes. It is important that we continue to ensure that upland grazing is in place.

I should have drawn members’ attention to the fact that I have a 3-acre field, which one of my neighbours uses for upland grazing.

19 January 2012

(S4O-00569) Seabird Breeding Colony Special Protection Areas

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab): 1. To ask the Scottish Executive to what extent it monitors the site condition of seabird breeding colony special protection areas, including the corresponding marine extensions. (S4O-00569)

The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Scottish Natural Heritage operates a site condition monitoring programme for protected areas in Scotland to determine the condition of the natural features. It uses a range of information sources to assess the condition of special protection areas for seabirds, including national population censuses and breeding surveys.

Claudia Beamish: The minister will be aware that one of the SPAs with marine extension is St Abb’s Head, which is in the region that I represent. It supports in excess of 20,000 seabirds and is truly a site of European importance. Does the minister accept that, if the monitoring of the site is not sufficiently robust, licences for marine activities could be erroneously granted and negative impacts on the seabird populations might result?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes the point that, if we have insufficient information, we might not deal with proposals for developments correctly. I accept that point. That is why we monitor the activities of seabirds. I know, in particular, that the Isle of May, near St Abb’s Head, is an important seabird colony, particularly for gannets.

We have recently published an atlas of all marine activity, under the banner of Marine Scotland. We work with third parties, such as the RSPB, and use information from them. A wide range of information about St Abb’s Head and many of the other SPAs flows into our decision-making processes.

Roderick Campbell (North East Fife) (SNP): The Isle of May, in my constituency, is a significant seabird and grey seal colony. However, the long-term trend of decline in the number of seabirds continues. What further action can the Government take to address the decline in the seabird population, given its role in creating sustainable tourism?

Stewart Stevenson: I absolutely recognise the value of birds as a tourism icon, as well as the fact that they contribute to biodiversity. Ironically, some of the decline in the Firth of Forth has been attributable to the cleaning of the sewage outputs. Less sewage is being discharged into the Forth, which means that there is less food for some of the seabirds. Sometimes, the unintended side effects of good environmental interventions can result in situations such as the one that the member describes.

I should say that, in the Firth of Forth, the numbers of some species are improving while those of other species decline. It is a matter that we keep a close eye on, and we are always open to suggestions about how we can respond to any decline in specific species.

Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Does the minister accept that the health of seabird populations is also a barometer of the health of the marine food chain, and that that applies equally to fish stocks? Is enough research and development being done on the subject?

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Minister: seabirds.

Stewart Stevenson: Seabirds and perhaps also water birds are affected by the marine environment and, to varying degrees, rely on sea stocks. When we had a closure in the North Sea some 20 years ago, it was interesting to see that the puffin population rose because there was greater availability of fish.

We are absolutely aware of the interaction between fish stocks and seabird—and, indeed, water bird—populations.

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