One of Scotland’s best-known walking routes faces being “devastated” if a controversial housing development goes ahead on the banks of Loch Lomond, according to campaigners.
The West Highland Way stretches 96 miles from Milngavie to Fort William and takes in some of Scotland’s most scenic areas.
It is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting more than 80,000 walkers each year.
Around 200 business depend on the walkway, which annually raises £3.5 million to the Scottish economy.
But villagers in Balmaha fear proposals for 22 new homes in a woodland site near the route will threaten important wildlife and destroy the landscape people travel to experience.
As many as 20 tree species as well as otters, red squirrels, adders and slow worms have been spotted in the forest.
Rural Stirling Housing Association (SRHA) has lodged a planning application for the scheme, which includes “affordable” housing, homes for local workers and two private plots, with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority.
The authority’s local development plan sets out an annual target to build 75 new homes across the area.
The scheme would more than double the population of Balmaha, which is currently home to around 75 people.
Now a new campaign group has been set up in an effort to block the development.
Professor Dino Jaroszynski, chair of Balmaha Biodiversity Community Action, said: “Several rare and protected species can be found on the land. Otters nest there, as do red squirrels, and we have a healthy colony of endangered slow-worms – all of which are protected.
“Building these houses will destroy this precious habitat and ruin what is recognised by Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park as one of the main tourist draws to the area. If you start building houses on greenbelt land on the shore of Loch Lomond you set a precedent and open the door to similar developments.
“It is inconceivable this could happen, never mind in heart of one of Scotland’s most well-visited national parks.”
But the SRHA insists there is considerable local support for the scheme, which has been designed to safeguard the most significant trees and blend in with the landscape.
Director Tony Teasdale believes the impact on views from the West Highland Way will be “insignificant”.
He added: “The area is special, attracting very many visitors and tourists, and this is something all involved recognise needs to be protected and sustained. However, it is also somewhere that people need to live and work.
“Local house prices are extremely high, there is very little affordable rented housing and local tourist businesses struggle to provide accommodation that will enable them to retain employees.
“The area has seen a de-population over the last 20 years. The concern from most people we speak to is about ensuring that Balmaha and the wider area can be a vibrant, inclusive and sustainable community going forward.
“Sensitive, small-scale development of the type we’re proposing is a key part of this.”