The destruction of a large and wildlife-rich area of sand dunes in North Ayrshire has been documented from the air.
Drone footage captured by a local photographer gives a birds-eye view of an excavator working to flatten several hectares of tall, wildlife-rich dunes to make way for development on the Ardeer peninsula near Stevenson.
In recent years around 20 hectares of sand dunes have been destroyed through commercial sand extraction in recent years over five extraction sites.
The peninsula is one of the largest sand dune systems in the south of Scotland. It is believed to be one of the most important sites for pollinators in Scotland with over 112 species of bees and wasps, 167 moths and butterflies, and over 40 species of hoverflies present.
The number of other species recorded there in the last five years includes 247 beetles, 169 moths and butterflies and 62 spiders. In 2018, 18 new Nationally Scarce or Nationally Rare invertebrates were 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 bunting.
Despite this importance a Special Development Order (SDO) dating back to 1953 means development can take place at Ardeer without the detailed planning permission which would be required anywhere else in Scotland.
This means that 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.
Local naturalists and wildlife charities including the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and RSPB Scotland believe that the Special Development Order covering Ardeer should be revoked to ensure that any further developments are subject to proper scrutiny.
Local conservation group member Iain Hamlin 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.
“When an alarmed local told me earlier this year that a ‘new sand quarry’ had sprung up in the area, I went down and saw that the dunes are being extracted to convert the site into a large, flat area. Lorries come and take the sand away off-site.
“Unfortunately the excavators have made striking progress and 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. These are nationally important habitats that need proper protection.”
Bruce Wilson, Public Affairs Manager, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “This alarming footage demonstrates that almost anything goes at Ardeer, with little protection for the natural environment.
“Sadly as long as the Special Development Order stands any plans can be virtually rubber-stamped with very little scrutiny. Some people may not think that bugs are important but as Sir David Attenborough has said, without invertebrates, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.
“The order is an unacceptable and archaic loophole that local people have been highlighting for several years. It pre-dates the majority of the key laws and policies that protect our environment. We need to see action, both from the local council and through the Scottish Parliament’s Planning Bill, to ensure that Ardeer’s wildlife is given proper protection.”
Suzanne Burgess, Scotland Manager, Buglife said: “Ardeer’s unusually rich range of invertebrates makes it among ones of the best sites of its kind in Scotland. The site has taken many years to develop and the limited surveys for invertebrates carried out by dedicated local volunteers are still only scratching the surface of the diversity of species that call it home. Who knows what we might be losing by demolishing these dunes.”