Some of Scotland’s most famous wildlife, including Atlantic salmon, the capercaillie and the freshwater pearl mussel, could be at risk from climate change, a new report has warned.
Rising sea temperatures could mean cold water species, such as the white beaked dolphin, are “at risk of being lost from our waters”.
Meanwhile Scotland’s “world-renowned salmon rivers may lose more fish as water temperatures rise and summer water levels decline”, the report, produced by WWF Scotland and Scottish Environment LINK, added.
The Scotland’s Nature on Red Alert study examined the impact climate change could have on different species and habitats, and it warned “immediate and substantial action is clearly required to prevent catastrophic damage”.
The Scottish Government is already bringing forward new legislation which will commit the country to reducing harmful emissions by 90% by 2050 – up from the previous target of 80%.
While ministers insist this is at the “limit of feasibility”, environmental campaigners say the targets set in the Climate Change Bill do not go far enough, demanding a 100% reduction in emissions – known as a “net zero” target.
Dr Sam Gardner, acting director at WWF Scotland, said: “Nature is on the frontline of climate change. Even small increases in temperature threaten many of the plants and animals that give Scotland its iconic landscapes, but that we also depend on for food and pollination.
“That’s why it’s so important the Climate Change Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament is strengthened to ensure that within a generation, we end our role in climate change entirely.
“Scotland is rightly proud of its diverse and unique flora and fauna, but we need to wake up to the fact it is increasingly under threat from climate change.
“It’s not just polar bears that are under threat, but our beloved Scottish species and habitats too.”
The report warned snow bunting – a tiny bird weighing no more than a golf ball which is already amongst the rarest birds in the UK – could be impacted if climate change results in a reduction of suitable habitats for the species.
Capercaillie could lose 59% of their suitable habitat if temperatures rise by 0.7C – but a higher rise of 1.9C by the 2050s could see it lose 99% of its potential space.
The report said: “Given the already precarious state of the Scottish capercaillie population, the outlook for this species is not promising under these conditions.”
Meanwhile a rise in temperature in the shallower waters of Scotland’s coastal shelves “could potentially lead to dramatic reductions in populations of species such as white-beaked dolphins, which need both cool and relatively shallow water”.
The report went on to state that higher water temperatures could be “lethal” for some types of fish, including Atlantic salmon, trout and Arctic charr – while a smaller rise in temperature could reduce growth and egg survival rates for them.
In addition, some of Scotland’s “most iconic habitats, including our peatlands, uplands, coastal machair and oak woodlands, have been identified as particularly vulnerable to climate change”.
The study warned: “Climate change will accelerate the already rapid rate of decline of our biodiversity, resulting in the loss of species and a disruption to the ecosystem services on which we depend.”
Craig Macadam, vice-chair of Scottish Environment LINK, said: “From peatlands to pearl mussels, Scotland is home to many globally significant species and habitats. With these wildlife treasures comes an international responsibility to protect them for future generations.
“We need to give our species and habitats a fighting chance to adapt to climate change. It is important that we restore the health of our nature and improve its resilience to climate change impacts.
“We therefore need to set ambitious targets within the Climate Change Bill, including ensuring that Scotland ends its contribution to climate change, and backs these up with action to secure the future of Scotland’s wildlife.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said ministers are “committed to protecting our unique and diverse habitats and species”, and Scotland is “leading the way with its work to protect and increase biodiversity”.
She added: “We are on track to meet our 2020 targets and our partnership working is delivering real benefits with improvements to our marine environment, peatlands, rivers and woodlands over the last few years.
“The Climate Change Bill sets out the most ambitious targets for 2020, 2030 and 2040 of any country in the world, and will mean that Scotland is carbon-neutral by 2050. The targets have been described by our independent expert advisers as the very limits of feasibility.
“We are committed to achieving net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases as soon as possible, and the Bill means that ministers will be legally bound to regularly review when a date for that can be set in law.”