Swathes of ancient woodland are being wiped out for large-scale developments in Perthshire, Scotland’s countryside watchdog has warned.
Scottish Natural Heritage called for a region-wide review as it lodged its formal objection to the Cross Tay Link Road project.
The government body said steps needed to be taken to soften the impact of the long-awaited £113 million scheme.
Perth and Kinross Council is consulting on its flagship development, which will link the A9 with the A93 and A94 north of Scone.
Local authority leaders believe the plan will alleviate congestion and worryingly high pollution levels in the city centre. However, opponents are concerned it will take traffic directly through a new housing estate.
Now SNH has added to the criticism, lodging an objection which spotlights the potential effects on surrounding woods and fish habitats in the River Tay.
Operations manager for Tayside and Grampian Darren Hemsley said there should be safeguards across the area to protect significant woods from the CTLR, and other construction projects.
He said: “The proposed development will result in loss/fragmentation/connectivity of several woods which are recorded… as ‘ancient’ or ‘long established plantation origin.’
“There is a national interest in safeguarding and enhancing species and habitats identified to be of outstanding conservation importance in Scotland. Ancient semi-natural woodland is an irreplaceable resource and the loss of any ancient woodland is significant.”
Mr Hemsley added: “There are incremental losses of ancient woodland in Perthshire, due to not only this project, but also the A9 dualling, Bertha Park, Almond Valley, Scone North and Perth West.
“We therefore consider there should be a cohesive plan across the area to ensure the best results for biodiversity in the face of the proposed loss of ancient woodland can be achieved.”
SNH noted that compensatory planting would replace felled woodland. “The current proposed mitigation, as we understand it from our discussions with (lead consultants) SWECO, is to replace the 12.17ha of wooded area that will be lost if the proposal goes ahead with 13.67ha of planting,” said Mr Hemsley.
Perth and Kinross Council is now being urged to show how it will mitigate and compensate for lost woods.
Mr Hemsley added that the proposal was also likely to have a “significant effect” on Atlantic salmon in the Tay (a Special Area of Conservation).
He has called for a planning condition to ensure the project is taken forward strictly in accordance with the HRA (habitats regulations appraisals) process.