SCOTTISH Green MSP Ross Greer has questioned the government’s commitment to protecting important environmental sites such as Loch Lomond, after it was accused of “sacrificing the country’s natural heritage”.

A policy note published on the Scottish Government’s website on January 22 stated that the legal protection offered to wetland sites deemed to be of international significance under the Ramsar Convention – an international treaty signed in 1971 for the conservation of such sites – could now be downgraded.

All Ramsar sites are also Natura 2000 sites and as such, are offered protection under European law.

However, the updated guidance note declares that sites which do not meet these qualifying requirements will instead receive protection as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which, it is argued, is not as robust.

Scotland currently has 51 designated Ramsar sites, including Loch Lomond.

The new guidance contradicts a commitment made by environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham to parliament in April 2018, when she said that protections would not be weakened.

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Mr Greer, who raised the issue with deputy first minister John Swinney at the Scottish Parliament last week, said: “Scotland’s natural beauty and spectacular wildlife are world famous, we cannot afford to weaken the protections they are given.

“The Deputy First Minister agreed to have the environment secretary look into this and write to me, which is welcome, given the government’s new guidance seems to flatly contradict her previous commitment.

“I will keep pressing for strong protections for Loch Lomond, so we can safeguard this important environmental and economic asset for generations to come.”

The move has also been criticised by environmental bodies who are concerned that sites like Loch Lomond may now be put at risk.

A spokesperson for RSPB Scotland said: “Effectively, this new note indicates that Ramsar sites in themselves should have no specific protection and protection should instead only be provided by other underlying designated sites.”

Cameron McNeish, Scottish outdoors commentator, said: “This is an utter disgrace, from a very environmentally dodgy SNP government. Not sure how long I can keep supporting SNP.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scottish Planning Policy is clear that all Ramsar sites are protected through co-designation with Natura 2000 sites and/or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and are protected under the relevant statutory regimes.

“Scotland is meeting its Ramsar requirements.”