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Overgrazing by deer and invasive non-native species like rhododendrons are two factors being blamed for biodiversity loss in Scotland’s protected nature sites.

Official statistics published by NatureScot show that while more than three-quarters of Scotland’s protected nature sites are in or heading towards a favourable condition, there is a worrying reversal elsewhere.

NatureScot highlighted deer numbers in particular, stating: “To combat these effects, NatureScot is leading work to reduce deer numbers in areas where populations are affecting habitats adversely, implementing the recommendations of the Deer Working Group (DWG).

“NatureScot is also helping fund a number of projects to reduce invasive species, such as the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative and removing non-native rhododendrons as part of the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest partnership.”

Climate change is a third driver in the declining fortunes of Scotland’s protected nature sites. NatureScot said the effects of climate change are likely to be demonstrated by small changes across large areas over a long time period.

Scottish Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “While it is encouraging that over three-quarters of Scotland’s natural features are in good or recovering condition, we must do more to reverse biodiversity loss and protect our vital habitats and species.

“The Scottish government is clear that this is an emergency that requires an emergency response. We are already investing in our land and at seas through our £65 million Nature Restoration Fund, expanding nature networks and establishing a new National Park.”

She continued that the Scottish government will publish a delivery plan later this year to support its Biodiversity Strategy, adding: “It is designed to deliver landscape-scale, transformative change and will be backed by evidence and underpinned by statutory targets for nature recovery.”

Meanwhile, Nick Halfhide, NatureScot’s Director of Nature and Climate Change, warned that Scotland is facing a nature and climate emergency. Protected areas are vital in building resilience in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss.

“Protected areas are often small and isolated from other natural areas. So although it’s possible to improve some species and habitats with work on one site, we also have to look at the situation more widely. This isn’t something we can do on our own; we all need to play our part to protect Scotland’s nature and to champion the work of land managers who are improving nature on these sites,” he observed.