The Scottish Government has been accused of “delay and failed delivery” on tackling Scotland’s biodiversity crisis after confirming a key investment plan will now not be published until next year.

Scotland has experienced a 24% decline in abundance of wildlife since 1990.

Green Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater has drawn up the Scottish Government’s biodiversity strategy that has proposed targets for nature recovery being put into law in line with those for climate change as part of a Natural Environment Bill.

Ms Slater claimed the strategy, if followed, will put Scotland “on track for halting the loss of biodiversity and being nature positive by 2030”.

A framework points to “an investment plan to set out the cost of these actions and drive investment in their delivery”.

Having initially promised to publish the biodiversity investment plan in “the second half” of 2023, Ms Slater has now confirmed the key document has been delayed.

In March, Mr Slater said that “work is currently underway to scope the development of the biodiversity investment plan”, adding that “the plan is anticipated to be completed in the second half of this year”.

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But now she has said that the Scottish Government “will consider the analysis of responses and publish the final Strategy and delivery plan in spring 2024”, adding that “the biodiversity investment plan will follow shortly thereafter”.

She added that “this follows a short delay in producing the consultation on the delivery plan”, with the consultation due to close on December 14.

The announcement comes after The Herald exclusively revealed the Scottish Government was delaying its cruciual over-arching climate change plan for legally reducing harmful emissions.

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The delayed investment plan is another blow after Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan confirmed that the controversial proposals for Highly Protected Marine Areas have been shelfed after a backlash from the fisheries industry.

The plans to essentially ban fishing from 10% of Scottish waters were a key proposal in helping to restore marine ecosystems.

The Scottish Government has previously been criticsed for a failure to restore peatlands fast enough, with statutory advisers, the Climate Change Committee, warning that ministers are not being ambitious enough.

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In 2020, Scottish ministers announced £250 million of funding to restore 250,000 hectares of peatland by 2030.

Against a target of restoring 20,000 hectares of peatland a year, figures for 2022-23 show that only around 7,000 hectares were restored.

Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative MSP for North East Scotland, said: “This is yet another case of delay and failed delivery from the SNP-Green government. There seems to be nothing, whether it’s ferries or a bottle return scheme, that they can manage competently and on time.

“This plan was supposed to be ready in ‘the second half of this year’. Now it will be spring of next year before we get its ‘Strategy and Delivery’ outline, and the Biodiversity Investment Plan won’t arrive until after that.

“Coming in the same week that Mairi McAllan had to admit that the climate change update has also been delayed, this is an embarrassing confirmation that the SNP-Green government are habitually failing to meet their own deadlines.”

An RSPB Scotland spokesperson said: “Whilst it is vital that we get biodiversity investment right, there is little time to waste and any delay is a concern.

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“Scotland is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, and we’re still losing nature at a frightening rate. The longer we delay action, the harder and more expensive it will become to restore biodiversity.

“Restoring nature delivers immediate benefits and it is vital that economy-wide actions to help nature’s recovery are identified and started as soon as possible, and not unduly delayed to await the investment plan.

“This will require taking a holistic view of our nature restoration targets, identifying appropriate funding opportunities and filling the funding gaps. The direction of travel set out in the Scottish Government’s current biodiversity framework consultation is hugely encouraging but we must keep up momentum and secure an ambitious funded plan for nature as soon as possible.”

In December 2022, Lorna Slater published her government’s draft biodiversity strategy, with a final consultation launched in September.

Ms Slater has warned that “we are at a tipping point for nature”.

She added: “In Scotland alone, we have seen a 24% decline in abundance of wildlife since 1990; if we don’t take urgent action, nature in Scotland will continue to decline and important species will be lost forever.

.“A nature-positive Scotland creates great opportunities that will benefit people and communities throughout the country and particularly in rural areas.

“We want to work with everyone – with local government, local communities, organisations and environmental experts - to protect our precious natural environment for future generations.”