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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 08:37 GMT
Law protects threatened species
The Capercaillie is given special protection under the law
A new law to increase protection for Scotland's wildlife and the environment has come into force.

The Nature Conservation Act increases penalties for anyone damaging a protected site of scientific interest to 40,000.

It also introduces new offences safeguarding nesting birds, badgers, whales and dolphins.

Ministers said the law put Scotland at the "cutting edge" of international biodiversity conservation.

The wide-ranging new law makes it a criminal offence to harm or destroy any of Scotland's bird, animal or plant life.

'Turning point'

It includes special protection for a number of threatened species, including Scotland's national bird - the rare Capercaillie.

In future it will be an offence to disturb the birds when they are "lekking", performing their spectacular mating ritual.

The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 also includes tough measures to clamp down on people who recklessly damage nature reserves.

The act provides a robust system for safeguarding Scotland's most special places
Lewis Macdonald
Deputy Environment Minister

Quad bikers who churn up the hillsides on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) face heavy fines and the prospect of being ordered to pay thousands more in restoration orders.

Landowners also face similar penalties if they make unauthorised changes to their land which harm the environment.

John Markland, chairman of environment watchdog Scottish Natural Heritage, hailed the legislation as "a very important turning point for nature conservation in Scotland".

He said: "It will lead to a less bureaucratic system for protection of our most threatened animals and plants, whether they occur on sites of special scientific interest or elsewhere, away from protected sites."

'Secure future'

Lloyd Austin, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, backed the legislation.

He said: "RSPB Scotland and other environmental charities have campaigned hard for this.

"We need to ensure our wildlife has the level of protection necessary, given the steep decline in populations of many of our species.

"The act has brought wildlife legislation in Scotland up to date and we look forward to a more secure future for the environment."

Snowy owl
Tougher penalties are in place for harming Scotland's wildlife
Many of Scotland's native species are classed as endangered.

Marine life on the threatened list includes the bottlenosed dolphin, the freshwater pearl mussel and the powan, a freshwater fish.

The wildcat, another symbol of Scotland, is also facing extinction, as are the Scottish crossbill bird, the Scotch Argus butterfly and the Slender Scotch Burnet moth.

Plants under threat include Snow Caloplaca lichen and Ear-lobed Dog-lichen.

Balancing needs

Bob Howat, vice-president of the National Farmers' Union Scotland, said his members played a crucial role in managing some of Scotland's most valuable wildlife sites.

He said: "This act provides the vehicle to support farmers' continued management of SSSI's, which cover 12% of Scottish farmland.

"The act is crucial to protecting and enhancing these areas."

Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, Lewis Macdonald, detailed the new legislation at Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens on Monday.

He said: "The act provides a robust system for safeguarding Scotland's most special places and addresses the need for improved protection of vulnerable wildlife.

"We recognise that successful conservation means balancing the needs of people and places.

"Through greater protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest, this act places Scotland at the leading edge of international biodiversity conservation."

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