THE latest report into the health of wildlife and the environment in Scotland has found that one in nine species are threatened with national extinction.

The State of Nature report is regarded as the most precise scientific appraisal of biodiversity in Scotland.

Its latest findings show a 15% decline in the average abundance of 407 species which have been closely monitored since 1994.

While some species such as white-tailed sea eagles have seen increases due to conservation efforts, in the past decade alone 43% – or 172 – species have witnessed declines.

Some of the worst declines were seen in species such as swifts, curlews and lapwings, which have seen their abundance fall by 60% since 1994.

Kestrels have declined by more than 70% over the same period.

The National: Scotland has witnessed a stark decline in the kestrel population since 1994Scotland has witnessed a stark decline in the kestrel population since 1994 (Image: Matt Wilkins)

There is particular concern for Scotland’s globally important populations of seabirds, which in recent years have suffered the devastating impacts of avian flu.

Worryingly, even before the recent wave of the disease, the population of Scotland’s seabirds had declined by nearly half (49%) between 1986 and 2019.

There has also been a stark decline in the distribution of plants, with flowering plants falling by 47% and lichens by 57% since 1970.

Paul Walton, the head of species and habitats for RSPB Scotland, said that the report continued to show that more needed to be done to arrest the decline of biodiversity in Scotland.

He said: “The State of Nature report shows that not only is Scotland one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world due to historic losses, but that we are still losing nature now.

The National: Declining curlew populations are also of concern to scientists Declining curlew populations are also of concern to scientists (Image: RSPB)

“The findings should be a further wakeup call that, despite extraordinary efforts across our society to restore ecosystems, save species and move towards nature-friendly land and sea use, there’s much more we need to do to halt and reverse the declines.

“Thankfully, there are straightforward solutions and plenty of opportunities for the Scottish Parliament to make a difference in the coming months.

“Our nature is declining, but Scotland still has incredible natural treasures, deeply embedded in our culture, that we must urgently conserve and restore. We must take these opportunities before it’s too late.”

Climate change, pollution, agriculture, disease and non-native species were identified as the key pressures causing the decline in biodiversity.

But the report stated that there is ample opportunity to learn from conservation successes.

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For example, pond creation by farmers and foresters has benefitted great crested newts and lethal control of American mink has helped water voles to recolonise former habitats.

Controlling the spread of grey squirrels can help boost red squirrel populations which have contracted, and actively restoring seagrass habitat – as done by Seawilding – can help biodiversity in Scotland’s waters.

“Scotland is rich with passion, endeavour and concern for our natural world and, as we work tirelessly to tackle the nature-climate emergency, it is clear that ambition for landscape-scale, collaborative conservation efforts has never been so vital,” said Professor Colin Galbraith, the chair of NatureScot.

“The State of Nature report is evidence that Scotland’s nature is in crisis, but it also inspires us with what can be achieved by farmers, foresters, communities, charities and scientists when we all take the urgent action needed to protect and restore our ecosystems and species before it is too late.”

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 Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said the findings of the report demonstrated the need for urgent action on biodiversity and the climate. 

She said: “This report should leave no one in any doubt about the damaging impact of our rapidly changing climate on Scotland’s precious plants and animals. 

“This crisis affects everyone – we all depend on biodiversity for food, clean water, fibres and medicines.  It can also help prevent flooding, and contributes to our health and wellbeing. It is the best chance we have to adapt to climate change and ensure we can continue to enjoy nature’s benefits

“The Scottish Government is already taking urgent action, for example through our £65 million Nature Restoration Fund and our £250 million peatland restoration programme.

“Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy sets out our goal to be nature positive – halting biodiversity loss by 2030 and reversing declines by 2045. Right now, we’re consulting on the first 5-year Delivery Plan to implement this strategy – along with proposals for new targets for nature restoration that could be put into law, in line with those for climate change.

“Restoring Scotland’s nature creates so many great opportunities for everyone. Communities, businesses, environmental organisations and decision-makers alike,  must all work together to reverse biodiversity decline and protect our natural environment for future generations.”