The legislation is the Scottish Executive's bid to comply with international action to preserve the environment. It will enhance the protection of the nation's 1,446 sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), which cover 11.6 per cent of the country's landmass.
It raises the maximum fine for intentional and reckless damage to the country's most valued natural land and wildlife sites from £5,000 to £40,000.
SSSI offences include unauthorised development, removing plants and animals and causing damage with vehicles.
At the official launch of the act, deputy environment and rural development minister Lewis Macdonald commented: "This provides a robust system for safeguarding Scotland's most special places and addresses the need for improved protection of wildlife."
Scottish Natural Heritage chairman John Markland added: "It will lead to a less bureaucratic system for the protection of plants and animals, whether on SSSIs or unprotected sites."
The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act can be viewed via www.PlanningResource.co.uk.