Re-invest in Scotland’s most precious nature sites

All this week we have been celebrating our most special places for nature by bringing you a series of blogs about Scotland’s amazing protected areas. To round up the week, Isobel Mercer, RSPB Scotland Policy Officer, explains why we need to increase our investment in Scotland’s protected areas so that they continue to protect nature for generations to come.

This week we have taken our readers on a tour of Scotland’s protected areas, showcasing the rich diversity of Scotland’s natural heritage that extends from the peaks of its mountains, its rolling hills and moors, through forest and woodland to its striking coastlines and seas.

This series of blogs has shown why we need protected areas to restore and safeguard Scotland’s most cherished species and habitats, many of which are nationally and internationally important, and ensure that they thrive long into the future.


Lapwing. Photo Credit: John Bowler

Sadly, Scotland’s best protected nature sites are under threat. Scottish Natural Heritage’s annual official report on protected areas, published last week, shows that the condition – essentially the health of the protected species and habitats - of protected sites in Scotland has now declined two years in a row.

It is not all bad news: progress has been made in improving the state of some habitats such as grasslands, heath and wetlands. However, other habitats and species such as coastal sites, woodlands, uplands, and invertebrates are declining. We are particularly troubled that birds are showing the biggest declining trends out of any species or habitat group (-2.4% since March 2017).

RSPB Scotland are concerned that declines in funding for protected area management and monitoring and a lack of target-setting to improve the condition of sites are behind these worrying trends. Although we have previously raised, and maintain, concerns about how some of these data are reported, these annual statistics do provide an important incentive for increasing the health of our most special sites for nature. However, this only works with effective target setting.

Barnacle Geese with Isle of Mull in the background. Photo credit: David Andrews

The previous target to bring 80% of protected species and habitats into a ‘favourable condition’ provided a clear rallying point for government agencies, landowners and land managers to collaborate on positive management of these special sites. The success of this collective action was realised in 2016 when the target was reached. It is therefore extremely disappointing that no further targets have been set, and that the condition of protected sites has now slipped below this 80% threshold.

A failure to deliver, and maintain, real on the ground change in Scotland is occurring against a backdrop of a global crisis for protected areas. A recent report found that a third of the world’s protected areas are being degraded by intense human pressures. A failure by nations, both rich and poor, to put in place and enforce proper management for the protected areas they themselves have classified, is generating increasing numbers of ‘paper parks’ that offer no real protection and put biodiversity at risk on a global scale.

In Scotland, we have exceeded the internationally agreed target to protect at least 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of sea by 2020. However, there is some way to go before our protected areas meet the other tests of the target, to be effectively managed, ecologically representative and well connected. In 2020 nations from across the globe will meet in China to agree new targets and a way forward for biodiversity. In order to deliver the magnitude of change necessary these targets will have to be ambitious, and robustly enforced.

Real change is needed to effectively safeguard our most special sites for nature around the world. This change can only start at home, and the Scottish Government should lead the way. It needs to recognise the vital importance of these special sites for nature, by ensuring that protected areas are properly funded, and setting a clear and ambitious agenda, including post-2020 targets, to improve the condition of protected species and habitats. Protected areas do not need re-inventing they need re-investment, and they need it now.

Puffin, Fair Isle. Photo Credit: Chiara Ceci