A PIONEERING bid to unlock £1 billion of investment has been launched in an effort to save Scotland’s world-famous landscape and boost the natural environment.

Experts said the Scottish Conservation Finance Project will drive cash into protecting at-risk habitats.

Meanwhile, a network of new woodlands and urban green spaces will be created across the country as part of plans to transform the way environmental projects are funded.

The scheme aims to encourage public bodies, non-profits and private firms to invest in Scotland’s natural assets – such as by planting native woodlands or restoring oyster reefs.

In return, cutting-edge funding models will ensure they receive a cash return over a period of time.

For example, housebuilders and insurers could pay towards planting woodlands and restoring wetlands in order to reduce the risk of flooding and save money in the long-run.

Jo Pike, deputy chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), said there was a “growing awareness among investors that investing in nature-based solutions can help us solve some of the biggest problems that we’ve got”.

She said the scheme was at the “cutting-edge” of global ideas about how to tackle environmental threats, adding: “It’s probably more likely to succeed than at any time in the past, but it’s more urgent than at any time in the past.”

Ms Pike said there was a “direct parallel” with the Forest Resilience Bond, a scheme in the US which uses private capital to finance forest restoration – protecting water supplies and reducing the risk of devastating wildfires such as those seen in California last year.

The Scottish Conservation Finance Project is led by SWT and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and launched this month.

Terry A’Hearn, chief executive of SEPA, said the scheme was “an exciting opportunity to bring the right people together to meet this challenge”.

Charlotte Wright, chief executive of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said Scotland’s natural environment was “world-famous”, with investment in conservation “crucial”.