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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Wildlife bill wins approval
Golden Eagle
Golden eagles have been targeted by egg thieves
A new law to protect Scotland's plants and animals has been unanimously approved by MSPs.

The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Bill will place a duty on all public bodies to promote biodiversity.

It will also tighten up the law on wildlife crime and give extra protection to sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs).

And in a last minute change, the law will apply to the Queen's private estate at Balmoral.

It comes after pressure from Falkirk West MSP Dennis Canavan, who argued that Holyrood could not pass one law for the Queen and a different one for other landowners.

Rio Earth Summit

The Scottish Executive had insisted Balmoral had a good nature conservation record and said the Palace had not asked for any special treatment.

During the deate on the bill, an amendment to allow the netting of sparrow hawks around pigeon lofts was defeated by 87 votes to 30.

The new Nature Conservation Bill was inspired by the Earth Summit in Rio on biodiversity.

All public organisations will need to "have regard" for protecting wild plants and animals.

It will affect things like grass cutting and tree planting and the sourcing of materials.

Wildlife crimes will become easier to prosecute, with a suspect only having to be shown to have acted "recklessly" to be convicted.

Broad backing

SSSIs already cover more than 12% of Scotland's landscape and are designed to protect plants, animals, insects and even land formations.

The new law will stop landowners from being paid compensation for not carrying out developments on SSSIs, but will ensure that people who farm such areas are rewarded for maintaining it.

There will be last minute debates over the use of snares and over the netting of sparrowhawks around pigeon lofts.

MSPs in February rejected a total ban on the snaring of foxes and rabbits.

But MSPs from all parties have given broad backing for the bill, which has gone through consultation with bodies including Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB Scotland and WWF Scotland.

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