Crunch time beckons for Scotland’s wildlife

One in nine of Scotland's native species is at risk of vanishing due to the impacts of climate change, urbanisation, intensification of agriculture and other environmental pressures
One in nine of Scotland's native species is at risk of vanishing due to the impacts of climate change, urbanisation, intensification of agriculture and other environmental pressures
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Actions taken in this coming year will be crucial in deciding the fate of some of Scotland’s most iconic wildlife, conservationists are warning.

One in nine of the country’s native species is at risk of vanishing due to the impacts of climate change, urbanisation, intensification of agriculture and other environmental pressures, according to the latest State of Nature report - published earlier this year.

Without targeted action plans the specialist species that make our ecosystems distinct will be replaced by widespread generalists

PAT MONAGHAN

Scottish wildcats, red squirrels and capercaillies, as well as butterflies and other insects, are some of those most at risk. Environmental groups say urgent action, including tough new environmental laws, increased funding for habitat restoration and management and a powerful nature watchdog, is required to reverse declines and safeguard biodiversity. They say measures set out in the next 12 months will be pivotal and are calling for Scottish ministers to get “our own house in order” as the country prepares to host two major international environmental summits - the United Nations Conference of Biological Diversity (CBD) in April and Conference of Parties (COP26) in November.

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “Important decisions will be made here in Scotland in 2020 about the future of nature around the world and the links to the climate crisis. That’s why it’s so important we have our own house in order.

“This means stepping up ambition to restore our amazing nature – we cannot tackle the climate crisis without addressing the emergency facing our most precious species.”

They are calling for the Scottish Government to play a leading role in drawing links between the crises facing nature and the climate, and championing ecological solutions.

Pat Monaghan, regius professor of zoology at the University of Glasgow, said: “Action to protect vulnerable species and habitats should be central to biodiversity conservation. Without targeted action plans the specialist species that make our ecosystems distinct will be replaced by widespread generalists, with an overall loss of the biodiversity that makes our ecosystems resilient to environmental change.

“Focusing on wildlife that is seen as useful to us in the short term is not the answer. We need species and habitat recovery plans, and we need to implement these as a matter of urgency.”

RSPB Scotland’s Paul Walton, lead author of the State of Nature Scotland report, added: “With two key global conferences, on biodiversity and climate, both happening in Scotland in 2020, the eyes of the world will be on our country. How we prioritise, support and fund the twin climate and nature crises, how we use our ingenuity to find innovative solutions that genuinely deliver for both, will be under scrutiny. Peatland restoration, effective management of kelp beds and salt marshes, tree planting that delivers diverse and flourishing native woodland alongside timber production, better management of agricultural soils and habitats and a step-up in targeted species conservation, will be among the key pointers to success.”

They point to the reversal of declines in otter and pine marten populations as great examples of successful interventions in recent decades. Otters were lost from much of the UK in the 1970s due to pesticide pollution in water bodies, clinging on along only the cleanest rivers in the north and west of Scotland.

By the 1990s they were once again considered widespread across the country after new environmental regulations cleaned up rivers and improved water quality. Similarly, pine martens had virtually disappeared in the 19th century, due to habitat loss and persecution. Surviving populations were confined to the north-west Highlands. But following the introduction of legal protection in 1988, the population has begun to recover and has spread south and east.