A STRATEGY is being drawn up to restore nature after Government officials pointed to evidence revealing a “dramatic declines in its biodiversity” across Scotland.

Scotland’s peatlands are no longer a ‘carbon sink’ and are instead now contributing to the climate crisis by causing around 20 per cent of annual emissions, while research has found a mass decline in species in Scotland.

Ministers have launched a consultation ahead of publishing a new strategy – warning that “urgent action across Government and society” is needed to reverse the loss of biodiversity.

In a new document, the Scottish Government has admitted that in Scotland “almost all of the land surface has been altered by us”, leading to “one of the lowest biodiversity intactness indexes in the world” which is “undermining our ability to rely on our natural environment to hold onto its carbon stocks and sequester greenhouse gas emissions”.

It added: “It is increasingly recognised that the climate and biodiversity crises are intrinsically linked and need to be tackled together.”

READ MORE: Scottish Government admits climate strategy won't meet net-zero pledge

Scotland has set a 2045 target to become net zero along with a 2030 aim to cut 1990 levels of emissions by 75% - with a biodiversity strategy expected to mirror that progress. 

The paper highlights that “in Scotland, the evidence on biodiversity decline is strong and demonstrates that Scotland is seeing dramatic declines in its biodiversity”.

Since 1994, there has been a 24 per cent decline in “average abundance” of 352 species and there has been a 14% decline in freshwater species since 1070.

The stark new document warns that Scotland’s peatlands “are in such poor condition” that they are “emitting instead of storing carbon” and are now responsible for one fifth of Scotland’s total carbon emissions.

As well as the peatland warning, only around 64% of Scotland’s protected woodlands are in a “favourable or recovering condition”.

Scotland’s marine assessment in 2020 highlighted “declines in biogenic habitats and species such as Atlantic salmon”, the paper warns, adding that “climate change is now the most critical factor affecting the marine environment”.

Between 1986 and 2016, there was a 38% decline in Scottish breeding seabirds – while only 30,000 hectares of Scotland’s unique Atlantic rainforest remains and is “highly fragmented”.

The Scottish Government’s strategy aims that by 2045, action will have taken place to “have substantially restored and regenerated biodiversity across our land, freshwater and seas”.

READ MORE: Scotland set for 'rebound' after pandemic puts emissions reductions on track

But in order to achieve that goal, a number of actions will need to have happened in just eight years’ time.

By 2030, the Scottish Government hopes that farmland practices will have been adopted to encourage biodiversity as well as agriculture cutting harmful emissions, with action having stalled over the last decade.

Government officials also point to “a reformed agricultural subsidy scheme” which they add “delivers for nature restoration and biodiversity as well as high quality food production, and climate mitigation and adaptation”.

The draft strategy also points to “controlling grazing and fewer deer” in the uplands to allow trees, woodlands and other vegetation to rebound, alongside “creating natural open woodlands and scrub at higher elevations” and restoring peatland.

Action will also be needed for coastal and freshwater habitats, as well as urban areas across Scotland.

Officials have warned that “critically, due to the complex relationships between ecosystems, land types and marine environments we will need to see progress in all areas”, adding that “falling short on one outcome will undermine the overall goal”.

READ MORE: Scotland's strategy to mitigate climate crisis 'not keeping pace'

Since Scotland’s first biodiversity strategy was published in 2004, officials admit that not enough has been done to prevent a decline in biodiversity.

Greens Biodiversity Minister, Lorna Slater, said: “We recognise that the interlinked crises of climate change and nature loss need urgent action across Government and society.

"That’s why we have recently established the £65 million Nature Restoration Fund, committed to expanding protected areas and our National Park network, and supported the expansion of the beaver population.

“But we know we can and must do more. Sadly the evidence tells us that Scotland, in common with the rest of the UK and the world, has not done enough over the two past decades to prevent the continuing decline in biodiversity.”

She added: “Our existing strategy, published in 2004, now needs a fundamental overhaul to address the new uncertainties we face as a result of the global climate emergency.

"In addition to high level strategic leadership, we will need responsible public and private investment to achieve our outcomes and an inclusive ‘whole-of-society’ approach that engages with communities, business and decision makers alike.

“This consultation is a key part of developing our new strategic approach. Biodiversity is important for everyone and I would encourage everyone to share their views and help us shape this crucial roadmap toward a better and more sustainable future for Scotland.”

Francesca Osowska, chief executive of NatureScot, added: “The nature and climate crises cannot be overstated. We have reached a critical point where we must take ambitious action for nature now, and Scotland’s new biodiversity strategy gives us the best opportunity to do this.

“This national endeavour means that by 2045 we will have restored and enhanced biodiversity across our land and seas. Our plant and animal species will be richly diverse, resilient and adapting to climate change and everyone will understand the importance and value of nature.”

She added: “With global biodiversity targets being agreed at the upcoming COP15, there is no better time to start making this vision a reality.

“I strongly encourage people across Scotland; partners; communities and businesses, to get involved in the consultation and play a part in creating a nature rich, net-zero future for all.”