Red squirrel in wintry forest

Conservation in Scotland

Scotland is a country of superlatives for nature. For a small country it contains a broad range of landscapes and habitats – perhaps nowhere else of comparable size in the world has such variety.

Why is Scotland a special place for nature?

Many of Scotland’s habitats are of international importance. In particular, Scotland holds well over half the world’s blanket bog. It also plays host to:

  • The unique flower-rich Machair grasslands of the north-west coast
  • Caledonian pinewoods and West Atlantic oakwoods
  • Sub-Arctic Alpine plateau of the Cairngorms
  • Fertile farmland of Aberdeenshire and Ayrshire
  • More than 10,000 miles of breathtaking coastline and outstanding marine environment.
Abernethy RSPB reserve. Speyside, Scotland.
RSPB Abernethy nature reserve
Inversnaid RSPB reserve
RSPB Inversnaid nature reserve
 Mountain top with stone pile, Corre Cas, Cairngorm, Highlands, Scotland.
Mountaintop, Cairngorm
Troup Head RSPB reserve. Thrift, Armeria maritima, growing on the cliff tops. Scotland.
RSPB Troup Head nature reserve

Special species

These exceptional habitats in turn support a stellar cast of birds and other wildlife, including golden and white-tailed eagles, the corncrake, Scottish crossbill (the UK’s only endemic bird) and capercaillie, with wintering waders and wildfowl enjoying our rivers and firths.

Otters abound on our rocky coasts, and pine martens, red squirrels and wildcats enjoy the advantage of our native forests. 

Rare insects such as the great yellow bumblebee, pine hoverfly and dark-bordered beauty moth fill the air with a warm buzz.

An array of rare mosses and liverworts, fungi and plants - such as twinflower, sundew, Scottish primrose and greenshield moss - grow from our earth, and Scotland’s coastline supports over one third of Europe’s nesting seabirds, which come to feed in our rich seas. Find out more about the Shiant Isles Recovery Project, a four-year programme to make these islands a secure haven for more seabirds.

Corncrake, Crex crex at Oronsay RSPB reserve, Argyll, Scotland.
Corncrake
White-tailed eagle Haliaeetus albicilla.
White-tailed eagle
European otter Lutra lutra, swimming alongside river bank, Norfolk, England
Otter
Great yellow bumblebee
Great yellow bumblebee

Conservation challenges

Scotland’s environment shares the same problems as the wider world: nature is being lost and the problem is right here on our doorstep. 

Our seas and terrestrial habitats are subjected to pressures and demands by our unsustainable activities. Our seas are under constant strain from fishing; our protected habitats are encroached upon by developments. 

Our designated sites are prevented from recovering to good health by damaging land-use practices. Our native woodland is fragmented, and regeneration is impacted by overgrazing, which is also damaging our upland habitats.

Male capercaillie 'lekking'

We're taking action

Through targeted conservation programmes, RSPB Scotland is striving to improve the conservation prospects for all of the 16 highest-priority UK bird species that are resident in Scotland, including the Arctic skua, capercaillie, curlew, hen harrier, Slavonian grebe and wood warbler.

In addition to maintaining our focus on birds, we are also working to help other wildlife. We must ensure that the futures of the threatened Western Atlantic oak and hazel woods are secured, and support the principle of bringing back once-thriving species, such as the Eurasian lynx and European beaver.

We are accelerating our work in our highest-priority landscapes, such as our Futurescape projects in the Flow Country, Caledonian Forest, Machair and the Inner Forth, working together with with key partners. 

We will do this by demonstrating nature-friendly practices on our own nature reserves, and share this knowledge with others. Together we can help species that depend on Scotland, such as the curlew which breeds in internationally important numbers here.

Protecting wildlife sites

Scotland’s iconic wildlife is being squeezed into ever-smaller spaces, as people’s use of the landscape for agriculture, forestry and development pushes out the nature that would otherwise call these places home.

Along with other environmental groups, we have fought for many years to ensure habitats that support rare and vulnerable wildlife are protected from the worst impacts of human development.

By identifying the best places for wildlife, then ensuring they are properly protected and managed, we make sure our special places have a future.

How we help

RSPB Scotland has a team of professional planning and casework staff, who work closely with our conservation teams and scientists to ensure our knowledge of the best habitats and places for wildlife is second to none. 

We then seek to ensure that these places, containing the very best of our habitats and species, are sufficiently protected through EU or national legislation; we campaign for their protection and the implementation of policies that keep them in good health so they can be enjoyed by all.

When does the RSPB get involved?

We sift through development proposals to ensure that they do not damage protected sites. This involves working with developers to influence their projects so that they can amend their plans and lessen potential impacts on important habitats and wildlife.