The protection of natural areas has stalled, the report said

Progress to improve Scotland’s nature conservation areas has stalled, warns a report.

Around 18% of the land is now legally protected, but Scottish Environment Link says some protection is not effective.

His report calls for a more strategic approach to improve conditions in protected areas, such as tackling rhododendron spread and better management of deer.

The Scottish government says it will lay out plans to halt the decline soon.

While there are more than 1,800 protected areas in Scotland, the report found that one in five features in those areas are in an unfavorable condition.

The amount rated as healthy has dropped over the past 15 years to 65%.

Ministers have pledged to protect at least 30% of Scotland’s land and sea by 2030 with a higher level of protection for a third of those areas.

It is hoped that world leaders at the UN biodiversity conference COP15 in Montreal this week will agree on a global pact to do the same.

Isobel Mercer believes that lower budgets could exacerbate the problem

Report author Isobel Mercer told BBC Scotland: ‘We need to see radical change to bring all those designated characteristics into a favorable condition.

“And that will require a much more strategic approach to how we manage those special sites for nature.

“We’ve definitely seen budgets go down for things like site management and monitoring over the last couple of decades, which could be causing some of the problems.”

Threat to native species

The report says invasive plants, especially Rhododendron ponticum, need to be better tackled in protected areas.

The plant was introduced as an ornamental shrub from Asia in the 19th century but has become one of the greatest threats to native species in Scotland.

Woodland Trust Scotland has estimated that 140,000 hectares of rainforest are affected by the rhododendron plant variety, which chokes the soil and reduces biodiversity.

Volunteer teams have been working to try and reduce them, most recently at Kinclaven Bluebell Woods near Stanley in Perthshire.

Arina Russell, policy and advocacy manager at Woodland Trust Scotland, said: “We know our nature is in trouble, especially our native and ancient woodlands, and rhododendron ponticum is actually a major threat.

“It just smothers a site or woodland. Trees aren’t able to regenerate naturally. It shades all vegetation, flora, and takes over a site. So, it’s really, really invasive.”

Red deer

Landowners are encouraged to monitor the growing numbers of deer

The other major threat comes from deer management, with large numbers of animals causing overgrazing which can also prevent nature from thriving.

Landowner groups are encouraged to monitor deer numbers and keep them at sustainable levels.

A review for the Scottish Government in 2020, prompted by a population explosion, said numbers should be drastically reduced in some areas.

Jamie Hammond, from NatureScot’s deer management team, said: ‘They’re herbivores, they graze, so they might eat certain types of trees, whether it’s regenerative new growth or commercial forestry.

“The point is, we don’t know how many deer we have in Scotland.

“Having that balance between effectively and sustainably managed deer numbers, recognizing that they have an impact but are a recognizable species for Scotland, they are an iconic species and we have a whole industry around people wanting to see deer.” .

Jamie Hammond

NatureScot’s Jamie Hammond believes there is a need to strike a balance on deer numbers

The Scottish Environment Link report, titled ‘Protecting 30% of Scotland’s land and sea for nature’, says nature is being squeezed into smaller areas due to human activity.

Since 1970, he says nearly 50% of our species has declined and one in nine is now at national risk of extinction.

Scottish Government Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater welcomed the report.

He said: ‘We are already investing in our land and seas through our £65m Nature Restoration Fund, the expansion of nature networks and the establishment of a new National Park.

“We will soon publish a new national strategy, which will set out our plans to halt biodiversity decline by 2030 and restore it by 2045.”

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