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A flagship Mid Argyll construction project has flown into controversy after the developer was accused of disturbing rare nesting birds.
Andrew Tongue, a research ornithologist based at the University of Birmingham, claims work at the former Gleaner site in Ardrishaig has been allowed to go ahead despite the fact there are breeding birds on the site.
The £1.5 million scheme by Scottish Canals to refurbish the former Egg Shed building as the core of a community and visitor hub got under way in late April.
Mr Tongue, though, claims the work may be taking place in contravention of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), as amended.
Writing in this week’s paper (page six, Letters), Mr Tongue says: ‘I was shocked on arriving at Ardrishaig recently, for 2018 fieldwork, to discover the former Gleaner oil depot, a known local breeding site for the UK Amber-listed common gull as well as oystercatchers and black guillemots, is undergoing major development, with complete and utter disregard for these breeding birds.’
The accusation has been refuted in no uncertain terms by Scottish Canals.
Julia Johnstone, senior environmental scientist at Scottish Canals, said: ‘We strongly reject these allegations. We provided Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the regulatory authority, with access to the site last week to check for nesting activity. None was found.
‘SNH has advised there are a number of other suitable habitats nearby and that we are fully authorised to undertake works on the site. We have followed all SNH guidance throughout the project and have fully complied with all planning consent conditions set down by the local council. We will continue to liaise with SNH on any issues that may arise on the site to ensure we continue to fulfil our statutory obligations.
‘Our environmental team works very hard to minimise the impact of any work we undertake on local wildlife and the project in Ardrishaig is no different.
‘We value the wildlife that call the canal home, not only for their biodiversity but for the benefits they bring to users. We are committed to safeguarding local habitats for everyone to enjoy.’
Mr Tongue added: ‘I implore Scottish Canals to temporarily postpone this work until the birds have finished breeding for the year and, longer term, to design a mitigation plan for these birds.’
The body responsible for planning matters on the site is Argyll and Bute Council and a spokesperson said: ‘No representations were received in respect of it being a habitual nest site.
‘It is the responsibility of anyone carrying out work not to disturb nesting birds under wildlife legislation.’