Aberdeenshire has an abundance of protected beauty spots but new analysis has revealed that 26% of them are under threat.
A study of hundreds of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) across Scotland has found one in three is in an unsatisfactory condition.
In Aberdeenshire, there are 80 SSSIs with 273 important features. Of these features, the survey found 68 in an unfavourable condition.
SSSI features in the region described as in an unfavourable condition include capercaillie breeding at Creag Clunie and the Lion’s Face in the Cairngorms, and sand dunes at Sands of Forvie and Ythan Estuary.
Wildlife and nature charities have branded the findings across Scotland as “shocking” and have called for the protection and restoration of the natural environment to be made a top priority.
Paul de Zylva, of Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s shocking that our top wildlife sites are in such poor condition. The failure to protect and restore these vital nature havens has been going on for far too long.”
Kate Jennings, the RSPB’s head of site conservation policy, added: “The current state of SSSIs is shocking. Many have not been assessed for years so the actual picture may in fact be worse.
“If our governments are serious about tackling the climate and nature emergencies we need a huge step change in action, and it needs to happen now.”
However, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the body that determines whether a site or feature is of special scientific interest, has stressed that many features assessed as unfavourable are showing signs of improvement. It has recently announced an extra £2 million of Scottish Government funding to boost biodiversity.
SSSIs are protected areas for nature conservation. Most are in private ownership, as part of estates, forests or farms and chosen because they are home to rare plant or animal species or important geographical features.
A spokesman for SNH said: “It’s encouraging that when we include those features that are assessed as unfavourable but on the road to recovery, then 82 per cent of features on SSSIs across Scotland are either doing well or projected to improve.”