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The Interview with Neal Lochrie

According to NatureScot – Scotland’s biodiversity includes an estimated 90,000 animal, plant and microbe species, but every year since 1946, we’ve lost wildlife and in turn our natural heritage. We must take action now to avoid further irreplaceable nature loss.

Read our interview with the Council’s Biodiversity Officer, Neal Lochrie to find out what you can do to play your part and learn more about how the law will change soon, ensuring all public bodies in Scotland fulfil their statutory biodiversity responsibilities.

Based in Cunninghame House, Neal is an integral part of the Council’s Energy and Sustainability team. Working all over North Ayrshire, he is passionate about restoring Scotland’s natural heritage.

Q: So, before we deep-dive into biodiversity, can you first tell us a little about your background…

A: Growing up my mum worked three jobs and we didn’t have a car, so we had to go out and find adventure locally. I was always the kind of kid coming home with skint knees and mucky hands from climbing trees and filling my pockets with worms and centipedes – much to the horror of my poor mum who had to empty them out onto the kitchen worktop before throwing my trousers in to the washing machine. Hah!

But it was my grandfather who first took me out on walks across the Three Towns and Garnock Valley, who really gave me an appreciation of the rich natural heritage we have here in Ayrshire, and this is what sparked my interest in conserving it.

After working a few jobs that I wasn’t really passionate about, I went to the Scottish Agricultural College to study an Honours in Countryside Management when I was 25 and this is where I started to gain a real understand of the immediate, necessary action that needs to be taken to save our natural world.

Q:  Have you always worked in Ayrshire?

A: I’m from Kilwinning originally and have mainly worked nearby. I came from the RSPB in Lochwinnoch, I worked there for Garnock Connections as a project officer and for ten years as a Ranger then Natural Heritage Coordinator for the lottery-funded regeneration of Dean Castle Country Park. Before the RSPB, I spent a few years in South Uist working with a ranger friend at the visitor centre there.

Q: Can you tell us a little about what biodiversity actually is?

A: Put simply, biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth. It is needed locally and globally for us all to survive and is also essential for sustaining the ecosystems that provide us with fuel, wealth, health, food and other vital services.

The Scottish Government’s aim is to be recognised as a world leader in biodiversity conservation, but for this to happen, everyone needs to be involved and understand the benefits.

“We are currently in a natural biodiversity crisis and keeping in mind the UK has never been successful to stop net nature loss in previous years, the doomsday clock really is ticking to get this right over the next 30 years. If North Ayrshire boosts biodiversity we can tackle climate change at the same time as the two go hand in hand.”
Q:  What is your duty as our Biodiversity Officer?

A: Under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act, public bodies in Scotland have a duty to further the conservation of biodiversity. To do this, the Council has to produce a compliance report every three years.

With the next one imminent, it’s my job to work with every Council service alongside our conservation and environmental partners to make everyone is aware of their statutory responsibilities.

The Scottish Government has a clear ambition to be Nature Positive by 2030 and to have restored and regenerated biodiversity by 2045. So, we all have a part to play.

With the next report now underway – if your team hasn’t met me just yet – you will do soon as my job is to make sure our Senior Managers are ready to report on their successes effectively and take any necessary actions needed. So the timing of doing this interview is spot on!

Q: What can be challenging for you in this role? 

A: Sometimes a misconception may be that I am anti-development, but I am most definitely not. I understand that for our society to thrive we need to be transformational.

Working to protect our biodiversity provides opportunities when it comes to when it comes to attracting investment and jobs to the area so we can grow the economy and build houses for people who want to live here.

So when it comes to building and development, if we lose biodiversity somewhere, I can offer my expertise to offer solutions of where we can replace the habitat in another location.

It is very much a collaborative approach.

Q: Do you have any pet peeves?

A: I’m a laid-back guy, but jargon is my nemesis, especially when it comes to reporting and planning in the world of biodiversity. There’s so much jargon out there, my goal overall is to make our next Biodiversity Action Plan far more accessible. Recently, my friend thought it would be hilarious to gift me with an office jargon book called: ‘Want to Touch Base in my Think Shower?’ – we’re still friends, just…

Q: How is the Council taking on the challenge of nature loss?

A: Although we are in a biodiversity crisis, as a local authority, we are still making good progress.

Services like Streetscene are leaving some of our greenspaces and coastal locations more overgrown to prevent habitat loss of wildlife, insects, flower and fauna.

We also have teams like Roads who are maintaining our infrastructure and keeping pollution and traffic away from biodiverse habitats and the Council is committed to planting 108,000 trees by 2030.

A host of local eco-schools are running their own community gardens and working on conservation projects to attract pollinators.

Eglinton Park and Lochshore are teaming up with volunteers and staff to work on living willow hedges (amongst other nature projects), there’s the ongoing work of our Ranger Service and local environmentalists who are helping to monitor and protect habitats by observing nature and collecting data.

Then there’s Youth Services who have a dedicated team of Climate Change Ambassadors and our Fairer Food network who are working with local allotments and growers to grow organic, locally sourced produce for residents in need.

Trading Standards and Environmental Health are having a strong impact too, seizing and preventing counterfeit products which often contain harmful chemicals. BUT there is still so much more to be done.

Q: What is your most unforgettable natural encounter?

Well, Uist was packed with amazing sights. It’s like a different world up there with red deer roaming across the woodlands, otters in the sea lochs and amazing birds of prey like the white-tailed eagle. The sealife there is absolutely incredible too and it’s one of the best places in Scotland to spot whales, basking sharks and dolphins.

Back when I was working there in my twenties, I got a call from my friend early one morning – like 4am in the morning – to say, “you need to come out and see this, you’re not going to believe this…” And right enough, it was something that I will never forget…

There, we witnessed 60 pilot whales guiding an injured elder into the bay. It appeared they were giving it a send-off, a whale funeral of sorts, leaving it to us to take care of as the whale would later sadly die. It was the whole family group. They were watching us, watching them.

They do this thing called spy-hopping where they pop their heads out of the water to get a better look around so yes it was a really astounding experience, we felt an emotional connection with them. It was very sad, but also very special and a memory I will hold dear.

My door is always open. I’m here for your team as an opportunities and solutions generator when it comes to matters of conservation and biodiversity. The way I work with others is very much a collaborative approach.

Neal’s Plans for 2023

  • Host drop-in sessions soon for staff who want to lean more about biodiversity
  • Meet with senior managers to facilitate their action planning
  • Engage with community groups to expand the Local Biodiversity Partnership
  • Work with farmers and landowners as we can only control land on our estate
  • Hold a biodiversity Conference before legislation comes into effect in 2024
  • Publish a new and accessible Local Biodiversity Action Plan

If you have any questions about biodiversity or would like to arrange a meeting with Neal, email him at:

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