COP26: how climate change is threatening Scotland’s wild animals and natural habitat

From seabird colonies to blanket bog, climate change is threatening dozens of important environmental features across Scotland.

Dozens of animals, habitats and other important environmental features are being threatened by climate change in Scotland, NationalWorld can reveal.

More than half of the features being monitored for the impacts of climate change are in an unfavourable condition, with birds predominantly being affected, including puffins and seabird colonies at specially protected nature sites.

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As the country welcomes leaders and dignitaries from around the world as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, campaigners have urged the Scottish Government to urgently phase out fossil fuels which are partly driving the crisis.

Which animals and habitats are under threat?

Analysis of official data from NatureScot, the public body responsible for Scotland’s natural heritage, shows which environmental features are under threat from climate change.

Features of special interest include species, habitats, plants and geological formations found across Scotland’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and RAMSAR (Sites classified under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance).

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There are approximately 5,350 features across the country which are assessed and monitored by NatureScot.

Figures show 75 features across 35 sites are being monitored for the effects of climate change with more than half of them (39 features across 20 sites) being in an unfavourable condition. This includes capercaillies at Loch Lomond, mountain willow scrub at Caenlochan and freshwater pearl mussel in the River Borgie.

The vascular plant assemblage at Meall na Samhna is the only feature to be in a recovering condition.

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Climate change is predominantly affecting birds too — 30 features on the list are birds and in an unfavourable state.

The Orkney Islands also has the greatest number of features affected by climate change, with eight features in an unfavourable state. This is followed by the Highlands with seven features and Fife with six.

‘Scotland is missing climate targets’

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said the climate emergency is rapidly getting worse and the Scottish Government needs to take urgent action.

Dr Dixon said: "Scotland hasn’t seen as big a change in our climate as some parts of the world but even so these figures show the impact on nature here.

“Having missed three years of climate targets in a row, the Scottish Government must urgently phase out the fossil fuels driving this emergency.”

‘Solutions based in nature’

NatureScot said it hoped the outcome of COP26 would see nations committing to actions to keep average global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

A spokesperson said: “Climate change is undoubtedly putting increased pressure on our protected areas, both on land and at sea.

“Protected areas are vital for nature and we have to make sure that they are not only resilient to climate change but that they continue to help tackle it. The twin climate and nature crises are coupled and must be tackled together.

“To achieve net zero in Scotland by 2045, we must focus on solutions based in nature, such as peatland restoration, woodland planting, and protecting and restoring ‘blue carbon’ habitats in our seas.

“More than 30% of Scotland’s net zero target will be met by changes in how we manage and use land and sea, so nature has a huge role to play.”

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