RESEARCHERS HAVE warned of climate change's long-term threat to Scotland's nature, following new figures published by Scottish Natural Heritage.

While around three quarters of Scotland’s natural features are reported to be in good condition or recovering, some protected areas are suffering the effects of invasive species, overgrazing and climate change.

SNH said it was working closely with partners, farmers and landowners across Scotland to take remedial action, including through hundreds of individual management agreements as well as support through the Scotland Rural Development Programme Agri-Environment Climate Scheme.

New figures revealed that 78.8% of more than 5000 features on protected nature sites were deemed in favourable or recovering condition in the last year – up from 71.4% in 2005.

Dragonflies, marine habitats and earth science were the categories with the highest proportion of features in favourable condition, while the biggest increases were noted in vascular plants with an increase of 1.3%, as well as heath and upland habitats increased by 0.8% and 0.6% respectively.

The largest decrease was found to be fish, recording a drop of 4.4% which was put down to a decline in the abundance of two arctic charr populations on different sites, the causes of which are being investigated as there appears to be a healthy population of younger fish and no apparent change to their habitat.

The natural features with the lowest proportion in favourable condition remain marine mammals at 57.1%, followed by woodlands with 64.3% and birds at 67.8%.

Researchers believe the figures for marine mammals is largely due to a well-documented decline in harbour seal numbers and research into these declines.

For many of the other features in unfavourable condition, they are caused by wider, often global pressures. For example, declining seabird populations are thought to be related to changes in prey distribution brought about by a combination of factors, including climate change.

Invasive species remain the single biggest reason for features being in unfavourable condition, representing 21% of all negative pressures, followed by overgrazing at 17.8%.

SNH Director of People and Nature, Sally Thomas, commented: “As we mark the 20th year of our monitoring programme, it’s encouraging to see the progress that has been made over the long-term.

“Despite this there remain significant pressures on our nature sites - including invasive species, overgrazing and climate change - and we are working closely with partners, farmers and landowners to help them tackle these challenges and ensure a nature-rich future for Scotland," she explained.

“At the same time we will continue to review our programme to equip us for the next 20 years, where we can anticipate more rapid changes to nature on our protected areas, and to guide our response. We will do this by ensuring we make the best use of new and developing technology such as remote earth sensing and environmental-DNA analysis to give us the most robust picture possible of the state of Scotland’s nature and better target conservation action.”