A RARE bee could help thwart plans to build nearly 200 homes in part of the Cairngorms National Park.
• Once thought to be extinct in Scotland, the rare mining bee (Andrena marginata) may force developers to go back to the drawing board
Fife-based company Muir Homes has earmarked a site in Grantown on Spey for 193 houses in a phased development over the next seven years. It includes an area known as The Mossie, regarded locally as a "paradise" for wildlife, and local conservationists have photographed a mining bee, known as Andrena marginata, at the location.
Until a few years ago, it was feared the insect was extinct in Scotland and is listed as endangered in seven European countries. Campaigners believe its presence can help stop the development going ahead when added to other concerns about the site.
The firm has reduced the proposals from 228 houses to 193, including 49 affordable homes. It also said it would contribute to roadworks, public transport and maintenance.
Although the majority of the land is zoned for housing, the national park authority (CNPA) will be asked today by planning officials to refuse permission.
The Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group says the CNPA board should not countenance housing development on the site. Gus Jones, the group's convener, said: "The Mossie supports a wide range of priority species including wading birds like lapwing and rare butterflies like northern brown argus.
"We welcome recent improved recognition of its special biodiversity interest by the National Park Authority.
"Unusually flower-rich grasslands and rush pastures like this buzz with bees, and The Mossie is one of only three locations where the rare mining bee has been seen in the national park.
"This rare bee was feared extinct in Scotland and is also known to be threatened elsewhere in Europe."
The plan has attracted 122 representations. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has objected due to concerns about a flood risk at the site and the Grantown on Spey and Vicinity Community Council has raised issues, including loss of amenities, and lack of infrastructure and facilities for a large rise in population and increased traffic.
The CNPAs Heritage and Land Management Group says the area is important for invertebrates and several species of wading bird.
Many of the species have declined significantly in Scotland and throughout the UK in recent years and Strathspey remains the most important area for breeding farmland waders on the UK mainland.
Park planner Mary Grier said: "The proposed layout would result in development on land which has been identified as being of significant ecological value, and would result in the loss of habitat for breeding wading birds and a range of other species which are dependent on their habitat."
The rare mining bee is about 1cm long, usually dark in colour and covered with fine hairs. It is mainly found in southern England and south Wales, though sightings of the bee were made in 1942 at Carrbridge and 1943 at Grantown.
By 1949, it was thought to be extinct in Scotland, but was rediscovered in Boat of Garten in 2002 and photographed in Dundreggan, Inverness-shire in 2007 and the following year at Grantown.