A project to tackle the problems posed by invasive non-native species – such as Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and American mink – has received a £1.5 million funding boost.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has been given the £1.59 million grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The project, which focuses on species associated with lochs and rivers, will see the target species managed at spots within an area of northern Scotland.
SNH chair Mike Cantlay said: “The aim of this exciting and ambitious project is to raise awareness and understanding of invasive non-native species, biosecurity measures and the importance and sensitivity of our freshwater environment.
“Scotland’s fresh waters constitute more than 90% of the total volume of fresh waters in the United Kingdom and support a range of economic activities as well as ecosystem services such as drinking water, electricity generation and flood protection.
“This project will support us in working with local communities and organisations to help care for this precious resource.”
Networks of rivers, burns, lochs and pools support much of northern Scotland’s biodiversity, experts say.
This includes globally-endangered species, such as freshwater pearl mussel, whose lifecycle is dependent on salmon and trout.
These places also support other species of conservation importance, such as otter and water vole.
However, invasive non-native species in freshwater habitats are having a “significant impact” on biodiversity, according to conservationists.
Predation from American mink is said to be a principal factor in the crash of the water vole population in Scotland, while other plant and animal invasive non-native species often out-compete native flora and fauna, leading to a decline in populations.
The team working on the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative will work with local communities to manage the invasive threats.
It will see SNH working with 10 fisheries trusts or district salmon fisheries boards, as well as Aberdeen University.
Organisers are also aiming to establish a volunteer network that will help to look after local freshwater biodiversity once the project has been completed.
Drew Bennellick, HLF head of landscape and natural heritage, said: “This project is all about empowering local communities to help save Scotland’s treasured native habitats and species.
“Our natural heritage, vital to our survival, is under threat like never before.
“Invasive non-native species pose one of the greatest threats to the our biodiversity and thanks to National Lottery players this project can really make a difference by both raising awareness of the issue and teaching people how to take direct action to help our native species thrive.”
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “This is an important part of our work to enhance biodiversity and protect ecosystems across Scotland.”