Police and conservationists are warning that some of Scotland’s rarest natural wildlife havens are being damaged as a result of illegal access by people using off-road vehicles.
There has been a recent spike in unauthorised use of quad bikes, motorbikes and karts at important nature reserves in the Highlands, causing damage to sensitive mountain and sand dune habitats.
Now experts fear destruction caused by the machines could jeopardise the survival of rare and threatened birds such as the dotterel and ringed plover.
Loch Fleet, in Sutherland, and Ben Wyvis, in Easter Ross, are protected as sites of special scientific interest for their important sand dune and mountain habitats and the wildlife they support.
They are also designated as national nature reserves.
Adam Rose, reserve manager at the Sutherland site, said: “We’ve seen a spate of damage at Loch Fleet in recent months caused by quad bikes, motorbikes and off-road karts. Sand dune habitats are sensitive to damage from vehicle use and damaged areas can take a long time to recover, particularly where the sand and soil are exposed to the elements.
“Large ruts, doughnuts and long skid-marks, as we have had recently at Loch Fleet, are particularly damaging as they take longer to restore. Of course this takes even longer where there has been repeated damage to one area.
“As well as the physical damage to the site, internationally important populations of birds that overwinter at Loch Fleet may be disturbed.”
Advisers from government nature agency Scottish Natural Heritage and wildlife crime officers are calling on visitors to respect other people and to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – which outlaws access by motorised vehicles.
PC Dan Sutherland, wildlife crime officer for Police Scotland, added: “The use of off-road vehicles on protected sites such as Loch Fleet and Ben Wyvis is not only damaging to habitats and wildlife, but may also pose a hazard to members of the public who are responsibly accessing these sites for recreation.
“The use of motorised vehicles on any land without permission is an offence.”