THE Scottish Government’s biodiversity strategy has been branded “meaningless” and a “paper exercise in delay” by marine conservation campaigners.

With ministers having launched a consultation on the strategy in September, a coalition of more than 130 groups insisted the plans are “already years too late”.

The draft strategy being spearheaded by Green minister Lorna Slater says Scotland should have “restored and regenerated biodiversity across the country by 2045”.

But Our Seas, a coalition of more than 130 community, fishing, recreational and environmental groups, accused ministers of continuing to delay measures that would protect and aid the recovery of marine habitats.

Hayley Wolcott, co-ordinator of the Our Seas coalition, said: “Although this ‘biodiversity strategy’ is calling for transformative change across Scotland, in reality many of the proposals are just kicking the can so far down the road that the strategy is meaningless.

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“Delaying protection of Scotland’s seabed habitats or fish nursery grounds by 2025 or 2028 is already years too late. The Government has already failed similar deadlines that were set for 2020.

“The strategy should be urgently addressing the root causes of biodiversity loss and environmental decline, not another paper exercise in delay.

“In a climate and biodiversity crisis, our seas need meaningful action, not more political stalling and broken promises.”

Our Seas argued delaying action could impact not just on Scotland’s fishing and coastal communities, but also on climate change – noting some seabed habitats, such as seagrass, can store carbon.

An estimated 84,000 tonnes of organic carbon can be effectively “buried” in Scotland’s sea lochs each year as a result, the group said.

Ailsa McLellan, from Our Seas coalition member group Seawilding, said: “Scotland’s seabed habitats store more carbon than all of its terrestrial soils, peat, and forestry combined.

The National: Campaigners say not enough is being done to protect biodiversity in Scotland's watersCampaigners say not enough is being done to protect biodiversity in Scotland's waters

“These marine habitats are at risk from poorly managed trawl and dredge fisheries. How can the Scottish Government claim to be international leaders in climate action while failing to protect our greatest carbon sink?”

Bally Philp, national co-ordinator for the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, said ministers have already “failed to deliver” on several commitments made regarding the marine environment.

He said: “They had a legal obligation to ensure that the majority of our seabed is in healthy environmental condition by 2020, yet nearly four years later the integrity of our seabeds remains in decline.”

The consultation on the draft strategy is open until the end of the year, and Our Seas is calling for limits to be introduced on “bottom-towed fishing”, where trawling equipment is dragged along the seabed.

It also wants to see effective vessel tracking systems introduced for all boats, and boats with a low environmental impact given preferential access to fishing opportunities.

Biodiversity Minister Lorna Slater said: “This is a disappointing portrayal of a significant piece of work that we neither recognise nor accept. The Scottish Government has committed to protecting 30% of Scotland’s land and sea for nature by 2030. Right now, we’re consulting on the first five-year Delivery Plan containing over 100 actions to implement our Biodiversity strategy – along with proposals for new targets for nature restoration that could be put into law, in line with those for climate change.

“Protecting our marine environment is vital for the viability of our marine industries, and a fair and just transition to a sustainable blue economy. We are progressing with proposals for fisheries management measures for our existing Marine Protected Area (MPA) network and for protecting our Priority Marine Features (PMFs). We also remain willing to support local groups that wish to pursue community-led marine protection in their local area.

“We will also continue to protect and restore our natural environment on land and at sea through our commitment to invest £500 million in our natural environment to drive landscape scale change, including through our £65 million Nature Restoration Fund.”