THE start time was 5.30am last Wednesday, the dress code was camouflage green, and the aim was to track down and expose illegal fox hunting. The officer leading the investigation told me he was determined to do all he could to tackle the problem as well as other types of wildlife crime. But there was one thing he said in particular that has stuck in my mind. “I can’t appreciate the beauty of Scotland anymore,” he said. “Because I know how ugly it is underneath.”

Sadly, he has a point. Scotland’s countryside may be beautiful on the surface, but in the woods and fields and moors, wildlife crime is common and goes largely unpunished. The birds and animals that live in the countryside are also under incredible pressure. A new report today by the RSPB and others, State of Nature, says half of Scottish species have declined. And what about this: the report suggests 11 per cent of the 6,400 species in Scotland are at risk of extinction.

Naturally, it’s depressing to read this kind of thing, but I have to say I’m also a little depressed by some of the shortcomings of the report itself. No one would question its premise that the natural world in Scotland is under pressure – although a large number of species are stable or increasing – but I think, in places, the report has taken aim at the wrong targets. In other respects, it has also ignored some of the deeper issues that are leading to the problem of species decline in the first place.

How, for example, could it have it ignored the subject of the meat industry? Quite rightly, the report identifies climate change as one of the main drivers of species decline, but there is no mention of the fact that 15 per cent of all greenhouse gases come from producing meat. Instead, the report suggests mass food production can be “decoupled” from ecological damage with the right incentives even though most people eat meat and the production of meat is based on the environmentally damaging premise of growing crops to feed animals which are then killed and eaten. (Answer: Just eat the crops).

In other areas, I think the problem with the report is that it takes aim at the wrong targets, especially “non-native” species. It’s true, as the report points out, that an unfamiliar animal can cause trouble on islands (the example it gives is the Shiant Isles, where the seabird population was reduced by rats). But the idea that some species belong here and others don’t was invented by Victorian botanists living in the British empire. Humans colonise and invade. Plants don’t. It is not scientific fact.

But no, the report accepts the convention of native and non-native and singles out rhododendron ponticum. Yes, the plant thrives in certain areas, but it is no more or less likely to spread than ivy or bracken, and like other plants that have attracted hysteria, the evidence is that, given time, the natural biodiversity asserts itself. And besides, are the authors of the report really suggesting that a reduction in rhododendron ponticum is one of the keys to tackling species decline?

I wish the report had been tougher on the building industry too. It points out the need for more homes has meant thousands of hectares of farmland, woodland and wetland being built on every year, and it singles out some examples of good practice. But a report like this should have been an opportunity to outline more clearly some of the changes that are needed. Why aren’t we requiring house builders to incorporate areas that are suitable for house sparrows, for example? And why aren’t we banning developers from covering hedges and trees with nets so that birds can’t nest in them?

There are other areas where I think the authors should have considered a redraft or gone into much more detail. Why was no serious discussion given, for instance, to the species that have disappeared from Scotland and the effect reintroducing them could have? I’ve spoken to quite a few of the people who would like to reintroduce some of the big predators to Scotland and their evidence that it would increase biodiversity is impressive.

There is also no discussion in the report about the effect of grouse moors in reducing biodiversity even though it raises a fundamental problem. Every day in Scotland, we kill some animals, legally and illegally, in the name of protecting others and it strikes me that we will never deal with the overall reduction in species until we get over the idea that it is ok to reduce some of them.

I also, in the end, can’t help thinking about that investigator I was out with the other day. Wildlife crime happens because humans are trying to protect or expand their economic interests and that’s the problem at the heart of species decline. Animals are hunted or killed or threatened or wiped out because there is money to made in doing so, and until there’s money to be made from saving them, I fear the problems identified in the State of Nature report may only get worse.