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Species Champions: The Best & Worst

Laura MacLaughlin

Each parliamentary session, the Scottish Environment LINK (a forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment organisations) asks MSPs to volunteer to become ‘species champions’. These MSPs lend their support to the promotion and protection of “their” species throughout the life of the parliament. It is one of Team NDs absolute favourite political engagement initiatives, and so below we’ve chosen some of the best and worst pairings in the current menagerie:

Best

First, Ash Denham is pleasingly the species champion for Ash. This requires no explanation, anything else would have been a miscarriage of justice.

Geographically, Tavish Scott and the orca are a natural match. We also approve of how seriously the former Liberal Democrat leader takes his role, running a competition for all the primary schools in the Shetland Islands to name a fluffy orca teddy he was given as part of his work. (The winning name was Timi, Sanskrit for ‘whale’).

We like the idea of Green Sport spokesperson, Alison Johnstone, and the Brown Hare. The hare strikes me as a sporty sort of animal, and with Ms Johnstone a former East of Scotland 800 metres and 1500 metres title holder, this just feels right.

Worst

It’s not that we object to Andy Wightman’s championing of the Mountain Everlasting (a woolly white member of the daisy family) per se, it just seems a missed opportunity for Edward Mountain. Mr Mountain also lost out to Kezia Dugdale (champion of the Mountain Sibbaldia), and is instead matched with the nice-but-oh-come-on-think-of-the-possibilities Golden Plover.

Alison Harris has a tougher sell (or should that be shell?) with her species, the Pond Mud Snail. While its presence is often used to indicate water and habitat quality, and it is thought only five populations now survive in Scotland, it is not an easy one to get excited about. Call us shallow, but it really is a species only a champion could love.

Sometimes it is all in a name. Alex Rowley is the champion for the Narrow Headed Ant – what politician wants to be associated with something described as narrow-headed?? Not much opportunity here for cuddly photo ops either, not only are they tiny and extremely rare, but they also squirt formic acid as a defence mechanism…

Honourable mention

We just couldn’t decide if Bruce Crawford’s championing of the Slow Worm was a high or a low, but it definitely couldn’t pass without comment. Mr Crawford was responsible for a particularly ‘memorable’ contribution to a Members’ Business Debate on the species champion programme. MSPs don’t usually use props, but he brought along a “picture of a particularly handsome slow worm for everyone to see”.

The member then surprisingly enlightened listeners, explaining that “the slow worm is something of a Casanova—yes, it is true. Courtship in the slow worm world can often last for as long as 10 hours before copulation occurs”. Before clarifying that never in his wildest dreams did he imagine “that I would be standing in the chamber talking about the sex life of a reptile”.

On a completely unrelated matter, Mr Crawford also noted that he had “no idea why” he was chosen to be the slow worm champion. We’ll just leave that with you to percolate.

A full list of species and their champions, as well as details of how to contact them, is available on the LINK website.

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