SCOTLAND has failed to meet international targets to prevent wildlife from becoming extinct by 2020 - despite ministers insisting last year they were on track, the Herald can reveal.

An analysis by Scotland's countryside agency, NatureScot, seen by the Herald reveals that efforts to protect endangered animals and plants were “insufficient” to meet 11 of 20 agreed United Nations (UN) targets by 2020.

Two years ago, the Scottish Government agency, then known as the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), admitted it was failing to meet 13 of the 20 targets.

The Scottish Government had required a full assessment on performance in meeting the targets by the end of 2020. It has yet to be published.

However a document seen by the Herald confirms that the country has failed to meet the targets in areas such as reducing habitat loss, preventing extinction, safeguarding ecosystems, increasing financial resources and increasing and improving protected areas.

Other areas there has been a failure in is in reducing pressures on vulnerable ecosystems, preventing and controlling invasive species and having sustainable marine management and eco-friendly agriculture, aquaculrure and forestry.

Two years ago a host of environmental groups contacted MSPs and the Scottish Government to express their disappointment at the failure to meet most targets describing it as a "wake-up call". They also criticised the positive spin being put on progress.

The environment minister, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, at that point insisted that Scotland was “leading the way” in its work to protect and increase biodiversity and was “on track” to meet 2020 targets.

The 'on track' line was repeated in in January, last year, when conservation groups warned some of Scotland’s most famous wildlife, including Atlantic salmon, the capercaillie and the freshwater pearl mussel, could be at risk from climate change.

WWF Scotland and the Scottish Environment LINK (SEL) of more than 30 conservation groups called for stronger climate action to protect Scotland’s unique habitats and species.

A NatureScot targets update document from August which discussed the format of the future updates over the targets confirmed that they had not been met but was keen to accentuate the postives.

It states: "In 2018 Scotland became the first nation to submit a report on all 20 targets... Scotland is currently on target to meet nine of the 20 targets, with the remaining 11 making progress, but insufficient to meet the target by 2020."

Scottish Environment LINK was deeply concerned about developments, and said the government needs to bring forward new legally-binding nature recovery targets, to restore habitats and "clean up our air, seas and land".

Vhairi Tollan, advocacy manager for Scottish Environment LINK said: “Our nature is in crisis. Biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates globally and ten years ago, countries around the world set targets to save the planet’s biodiversity by 2020. These set out a framework to address the causes of biodiversity loss and key areas where action is needed to let nature flourish alongside our everyday neighbourhoods and workplaces, as well as further afield.

“This year of lockdowns and travel restrictions have brought into sharp focus the importance of nature for our wellbeing. We are missing over half of these biodiversity targets and one in nine of our wildlife and plant species is at risk of extinction in Scotland.


“If we are to have a fighting chance of halting the loss of biodiversity in Scotland and putting nature on a path to recovery, we need to focus on securing space for wildlife, commit to new legally-binding nature recovery targets and invest in measures to protect nature on land and at sea.

“Next week the Scottish government will make final amendments to the EU Continuity Bill. It is crucial that it closes major gaps in new Scottish nature laws before Brexit and establishes the steps needed to help safeguard Scotland’s natural environment, today, and for years to come.”

It has further emerged that NatureScot has been considering reporting on progress on meeting the targets every three years as with the State of Nature (SoN) report, saying the current updates were "a time-consuming process" and adding that it was not sure how much "traction" the analysis gets.

"We propose that we learn from the SoN process and produce a short report in December 2020. The report will acknowledge those targets on which we have fallen short, while showing the efforts we have made to address the challenges, and also celebrate the efforts in meeting those targets we have. In this way, we will be both candid and engaging," a brief says.

SEL warned two years ago that Scotland's rarest species face being obliterated in the fall-out from Brexit unless urgent new laws and funding are brought in to safeguard vital conservation work.

READ MORE: Revealed: the rare Scots wildlife at risk of extinction

They said at-risk animal species such as the red squirrel, some birds of prey and sea mammals are in jeopardy because of lack of action in ensuring vital environmental protections are provide in Scotland after the UK finally cuts its ties with Europe at the end of 2020.

Their concerns were that there was no mechanism to replace the European Commission's LIFE-Nature Fund which has given £25 million over 25 years to Scotland to help with more than 25 vital conservation projects protecting the country's at-risk wildlife and landscape.

Receiving support was the restoration of the Flow Country peatlands in Caithness, one of the last great wildernesses in the UK and the preservation of primeval Celtic rainforest, the native Caledonian pinewoods and Scotland's coastal meadows, called machair.

They raised concerns that Scotland risks becoming the "dirty man of Europe" again with polluted air, sewage-filled beaches and flimsy conservation laws after Brexit, because 80% of Scottish protections stem from EU legislation.


The Scottish Government published a Statement of Intent on Biodiversity in mid-December, but it did not discuss the missed targets.

It instead accentuates the positives, stating tha 37% of Scotland’s marine environment receives protection with 22.7% of terrestrial land protected for nature. The statement says ministers are committed to increasing protection on land to 30% by 2030 and examining options to extend this even further.

It set out priorities for tackling biodiversity loss as part of what it called a twin-crises approach to "ending our contribution to climate change and ecological decline".

Scotland failed to meet previous wildlife targets and in 2010 committed to the 20 targets set by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity for 2020. They are known as the Aichi targets, after the region in Japan where they were agreed.

Governments agreed on the set of targets in 2010 to stem the destruction of species’ habitats, increase the number of nature reserves and stop overfishing.

Last year, NatureScot admitted there was a 49% decline in studied species in Scotland, described as a "worrying trend" by wildlife organisations.

One in nine species, including kittiwakes and wildcats, were threatened with extinction according to the State of Nature report for 2019 which gave at that point, the clearest picture to date of the status of species across land and sea.

Seven years ago the Scottish Government set out a strategy for conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in Scotland as a response to the Aichi targets which sought a "step change in efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and to restore the essential services that a healthy natural environment provides".

It stated: Investment in the natural assets of Scotland will contribute to sustainable economic growth and support wellbeing and wealth creation." It supported the Scottish Government’s purpose of "creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish through increasing sustainable economic growth".

Environment and climate change Paul Wheelhouse said in launching the move: "Scotland's rich and diverse natural environment is a national asset and a source of significant international competitive advantage. We trade on its quality, so its continuing health and improvement is vital to sustainable economic growth.

"Biodiversity plays an essential role in meeting the Scottish Government's vision of a smart, sustainable and successful Scotland, and lies at the heart of our economic strategy. Our natural environment plays a vital role in the prosperity of Scotland and in our national identity. It supports our tourism, farming, forestry, aquaculture and fishing industries and is crucial to attracting investment and marketing of our food and drink.

"It adds variety to our urban green spaces and contributes hugely to our health and wellbeing. Scotland's nature can, and does, inspire our people."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our record against the international Aichi targets compares favourably with the global picture.

“The Convention on Biological Diversity reports that there is no country in the world where the targets have been fully met. We are clear that there is work to be done and are making significant strides in restoring biodiversity.

"For example, our network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) already covers 37% of our seas – exceeding international targets currently being developed for other countries and this week we announced that by 2030 at least 30% of land in Scotland would be protected for nature.

“We have committed £250 million for peatland restoration over 10 years, which supports biodiversity, helps tackle climate change and creates green jobs. In addition, we have committed a further £3 million to help tackle biodiversity loss in Scotland this year, on top of the £5 million already committed through the Biodiversity Challenge Fund.

“We are also working closely with international partners to ensure global and local action is taken to protect biodiversity in a new global biodiversity framework to be agreed in China in 2021.”