A Highland and Islands MSP has warned that a failure to protect freshwater pearly mussels could land the Scottish Government in the European Court of Justice.
A recent survey found the population of the species, which is protected by the EU Habitats Directive, has fallen by half.
The downward trend of the internationally important shellfish is blamed on poor water quality, the water crowfoot plant, fluctuating water levels and wildlife crime.
Tory Mary Scanlon said the 50% decline in the population of the freshwater pearl mussel “proves that neither the government or the public agencies have done enough to protect this species, and is still not providing adequate protection despite the legislation”.
She asked: “So, just how prepared is the Scottish Government for referral to the EU Court of Justice and subsequent fines for not providing adequate protection for this species?”
Environment Minister Aileen McLeod said pearl mussels benefit from strict protection under the EU Habitats Directive, which states their habit must be maintained and improved, and that competent authorities must ensure conservation.
She said: “The significance on the decline, I admit, is of grave concern and only became apparent in the results of recent survey work that was due to report next month.
“As a result, Sepa (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) has commenced an analysis of environmental data collected over the last 10 years to establish the cause or causes, and this will inform future action, for example the Spey Catchment Initiative.
“Separate to this, the Scottish Government has asked Sepa and SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) to work together to draw together the appropriate objectives and standards for water bodies within conservation sites.”