Urgent calls have been made for an estuary boasting more than 1,000 invertebrate species and rare flowering plants to be protected from future development projects.
Situated in Ayrshire, the Garnock Estuary is a mosaic of dunes, grassland, woodlands, scrub and wetlands.
It is home to 99 species of invertebrates of “conservation concern” – a status given to a plant or animal for which there is concern over its ability to remain on a landscape for a long time – and some other species found nowhere else in Scotland, according to Scottish wildlife charities.
The estuary has also been hailed as one of the best breeding bird sites on the Lower Clyde coast.
However, organisations calling to protect the tidal mouth said because of a special development order dating back to 1953, planning permission is not required for development and activities in the area, which could put the wildlife at risk.
Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, said protecting areas that are best for wildlife, such as the Ardeer Peninsula, is “critical.”
The Ardeer Action group, made up of local community groups and national organisations including RSPB Scotland, Buglife, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Plantlife Scotland, has written an extensive report on why the area should become a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
In a signed letter to the chief executive of Scottish Government agency NatureScot, the action group said the area is facing “growing development pressure”, with a number of large and potentially damaging developments proposed including housing, a golf course and a nuclear power plant.
And with the site already facing ongoing sand extraction projects, which the charities claim are damaging the estuary’s dune habitats, the action group said granting SSSI status to the area is urgent.
Iain Hamlin, of the Ardeer Action Group, said: “The designation of this site would help the Scottish Government and NatureScot meet their aspirations to reverse biodiversity loss and protect 30% of Scotland’s land for nature by 2030, while ensuring the residents of Irvine and Stevenston, North Ayrshire, and beyond can enjoy access to a unique, wildlife-rich and largely untamed space both now and in the future.”
Craig Macadam, conservation director of Buglife, added: “Biodiversity is in crisis with populations of insects and other wildlife in steep decline.
“Rare habitats and specialist species are becoming more and more fragmented and at risk of extinction.
“It is essential that we act now to protect our best remaining wildlife sites before it is too late.”
A NatureScot spokesperson said: “We can confirm we have recently received correspondence from RSPB and SWT regarding this matter.
“We are currently assessing the case and considering how it might contribute to our ambitions to protect 30% of Scotland’s land and sea for nature by 2030. A response will be provided in due course.”
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