SCOTLAND'S wildlife and landscape is at risk as Britain's localised climates are shifting by an "unprecedented" three miles a year northwards because of rising temperatures, says a new study.

The shift - due to human-caused climate heating which is hundreds of times faster than the country's natural climate warming at the end of the last ice age - is set to outpace many species' ability to adapt and adjust their ranges, warns research by the charity Rewilding Britain.

The report warns that for wildlife, such as the endangered red squirrel, wildcat and capercaillie this move "could be catastrophic".

The group said that in Scotland this would have "significant" impact as climates normally associated with certain areas shift.

"Already, the country’s beautiful landscapes are ecological shadows of what they once were and should be.

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"Deforestation, burning moors for grouse hunting, and denuded seas have left Scotland as one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, its landscapes supporting fewer people than previously as a result."

The ability of plant and animal species to survive such a rapid climate shift depends partly on their ability to move to new areas that become climatically hospitable.

HeraldScotland:

But it warned:"If a given species is unable to shift across the land or sea at roughly the same rate as the climate zone upon which it depends, its population will likely decline and be at increased risk of extinction."

The charity's analysis of existing research by leading experts, also shows that a massive increase in restoring and connecting species-rich habitats across at least 30 percent of Britain’s land and sea by 2030 could help save a fifth of species from climate-driven habitat loss, decline or extinction.

Local climates comprise an area’s temperature, humidity, precipitations and seasons and help determine the distribution of species and habitats. Such zones shift naturally, but human-driven climate heating – increasingly recognised as the greatest future threat to biodiversity – is causing much more rapid disruption and triggering severe climatic changes.

The charity is calling for the creation of core rewilding areas across at least five percent of Britain, with a rich mosaic of nature-friendly land and marine uses across another 25 percent of the country by 2030.

It said Scotland, especially has the space and opportunity to take the fresh approach and is "perfectly placed" to become a rewilding world leader.

"It's biodiversity and wild places can flourish if we allow nature to work in its own way on a big scale, with a helping hand in places," it said. And next year’s UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Glasgow will be a major platform for Scotland to show leadership on the climate and nature emergencies.

HeraldScotland:

"Expanding, enhancing and connecting Scotland’s habitats is vital. For example, expanding and connecting pinewoods would help red squirrels, crested tits and capercaillie, which can’t cross large areas of open ground and are currently locked into isolated islands of woodland.

"There would also likely be huge benefits for people – from health and wellbeing and green recovery, to creating sustainable jobs and resilient livelihoods in rural areas."

But it said that there needs to be a major increase in co-ordinated, locally led action, involving communities, farmers, businesses, big landowners, volunteer groups, local authorities and the the Scottish Government to rapidly expand nature’s recovery.

"Our wildlife is already severely depleted and in no fit state to withstand the shock of current and future predicted climate heating," the charity said. "The network of protected areas and nature reserves across Britain is too small and fragmented to offer sufficient habitat for most migrating species in future. Nature reserves – currently established and maintained for the benefit of certain species and assemblages – may find that they are no longer in the appropriate climate zones for most of the species they are supposed to protect."

Earlier this month, the Committee on Climate Change government advisory body revealed that Scotland missed its annual emissions target in 2018 – and the 2020 target is only likely to be met because lockdown restrictions have constrained them temporarily.

Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 31% in the decade 2008 to 2018, faster than any other nation of the UK and any G20 nation over the same period, according to the study.

But it has warned that the Scottish Government’s forthcoming climate change plan must set the foundations for a “new era of action”.

It said the nation was at a “crucial moment” in its efforts to reduce emissions and meet the goal of achieving net-zero by 2045 – five years ahead of the target for the rest of the UK.