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A new funding package worth £250,000 to encourage more volunteers to get involved in environmental projects was announced in Parliament yesterday.
In his first major debate on environmental issues, Rural Affairs and Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:
"Healthy communities need healthy places and natural space plays a vital part in maintaining and developing physical and mental wellbeing for people.
"For many years, environmental volunteers have played a central role in maintaining and revitalising living environments including gardens.
"Projects have given volunteers of all ages the opportunity of personal fulfilment and development as well as providing communities the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labours.
"The additional funding will help volunteer managers ensure that more people can take the opportunity to volunteer and enjoy and enhance their communities natural environment."
Mr Lochhead also today pledged an all out drive by the new Government to transform environmental performance and make Scotland greener.
"We are determined this new Scottish Government, working with partners, will make long lasting and sustained improvements to the environment. We will provide an example and we will support other public sector organisations to do the same.
"I acknowledge the good work that is already being done, particularly throughout the public sector, in areas such as reducing energy and water usage and designing new buildings to high sustainability standards. But, we are not yet doing enough, fast enough.
"We have identified a programme for a greener Scotland over the life of this parliament focused on five themes.
"First, climate change. We have placed climate change at the heart of our economic decision-making and will be asking parliament to support a Climate Change Bill, setting out ambitious targets to reduce emissions in Scotland.
"Second, sustainable places. Healthy communities need healthy places - clean air, green spaces, places where people want to live and work. Working with communities and partner organisations, we will build on the many good projects that are already happening to support more sustainable places, especially in our most deprived neighbourhoods.
"Third, people and nature. At the heart of our concern for a greener Scotland is the importance of our relationship with the natural world. We will deliver with partners the next phase of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and look carefully at how Scotland should best approach the commitment to halt biodiversity loss by 2010.
"Fourth, consumption and production. We want to tackle over-consumption and the throwaway society. This means addressing what we buy and use - our food, transport, energy, our homes, businesses and schools - and what we throw away.
"To lead by example, we will consider how to implement a zero waste approach into the work of the Government and its partners.
"Fifth, people and landscapes. We know that our landscape and environment have made us what we are as a nation and as a people. That means that to grow as a nation and as a people we must be aware of that interaction and seek to understand not just the history, not just the culture, but the potential of our land.
"Where we change things we must do so with sensitivity. Where we invest in things, we must do so to benefit young and old and enrich their lives."
To achieve this the government will:
- Provide an additional £250,000 over the next year to encourage greater participation in environmental volunteering
- Recruit ambassadors for change to achieve a cultural and behavioural shift
- Publish plans by spring 2008 to deliver the next phase of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy
- Develop a detailed programme to improve the environmental and sustainability performance of the Scottish Public Sector, and
- Produce a Greener Procurement Action Plan for the public sector
Mr Lochhead added:
"Environmental Volunteering has an important part to play in building connections between people and nature. This not only benefits those volunteering but also helps meet such key priorities as community participation, social justice, regeneration, health, biodiversity and good citizenship.
"An Implementation Group including representative from public bodies in the environmental field, local authorities, NGOs and representative of business has been looking at how government can assist the environmental volunteering sector.
"I am accepting their recommendations to increase the quality and quantity of the volunteering experience by pledging an additional £250,000 per annum over the next three years.
"The five themes will provide the focus of our efforts over the life of this Parliament to deliver a greener Scotland."
Earlier Mr Lochhead had rolled up his sleeves to join Environment Minister Michael Russell and environmental volunteers to help plant a sensory garden at Corstorphine Hospital in Edinburgh.