Wildlife charities have called for an “archaic” 65-year-old legal loophole to be revoked in a bid to save a rare Scottish sand habitat that is home to hundreds of important birds, bugs and other species.
The move comes after drone footage highlighted the destruction of precious sand dunes on the Ardeer peninsula, near Stevenston, in North Ayrshire, described by The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) as “one of the richest areas for wildlife in Scotland”.
The birds-eye view shows an excavator working to flatten several hectares of tall dunes to make way for development of the site, which is home to one of the largest sand dune systems in the south of Scotland.
In recent years around 20 hectares of dunes have been destroyed through commercial sand extraction within five extraction sites, thanks to a Special Development Order (SDO) dating back to 1953 that means development can take place at Ardeer without the detailed planning permission which would be required elsewhere in Scotland.
As a result, the complex habitats that have developed over several hundred years can be quickly destroyed in a matter of weeks, with little regard for the natural environment.
SWT say the area is one of the most important sites for pollinators in Scotland, with over 112 species of bees and wasps; 169 moths and butterflies; and over 40 species of hoverflies present. There are also 247 types of beetle and 62 spider species.
This year alone, 18 new nationally scarce or nationally rare invertebrates have been found, including one species of beetle that had never been recorded in Scotland before. Additionally, more than 120 species of bird have been recorded including barn owls, hen harriers and snow buntings.
Naturalists and wildlife charities including SWT, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and RSPB Scotland say that the SDO covering Ardeer should be revoked to ensure that any further developments are subject to proper scrutiny.
Ayrshire conservation group member Iain Hamlin, who captured footage of the destruction, said: “Several objections were made to the plans to destroy the dunes at Shore Compound last year by conservationists, as well as local people and businesses, but due to the Special Development Order the council was obligated to allow them.
“Unfortunately the excavators have made striking progress. They have made light work of a natural habitat that has taken hundreds of years to form. It’s absolutely tragic to see the dunes being lost forever.”
Bruce Wilson, SWT’s Public Affairs Manager, said: “This alarming footage demonstrates that almost anything goes at Ardeer, with little protection for the natural environment.”