RED squirrels could be at risk if plans for a new quarry in woodland near Drumoig are given the go-ahead.
That’s according to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which has advised applicant Breedon Aggregates to agree a species protection plan with Fife Council.
Campaigners opposed to the Kirkton Wood quarry have vowed to keep fighting the plans for a 40-year asphalt sand extraction operation off the B945 between St Michaels and Tayport.
A report by SNH officer David Shepherd said: “[Environmental consultants] Acorna consider that the clearance and operation of the quarry will have an impact of high significance on red squirrels before mitigation.”
A 2011 survey found that there were 14 red squirrels living in the wood.
The report went on: “On balance we advise that even with the implementation of a suitable species protection plan there is likely to be a reduction in the red squirrel population at Kirkton Wood.
“On restoration there is potential for Kirkton Wood to support a population at a similar level to today.”
SNH said Breedon Aggregates would have to apply for a species licence to carry out the work even if given the green light by the council.
A spokesman for Breedon Aggregates commented: “We welcome SNH’s positive comments regarding the proposals submitted as part of the planning application.
“We are very aware of the ecological diversity within Kirkton Wood and through careful site planning and design we believe that minimal impact upon the wood’s existing ecology will be achieved.
“The entire wood is a timber plantation and therefore earmarked to be clear-felled upon reaching maturity.
“As part of the site design, areas of existing woodland will be retained and enhanced through additional planting under the proposals submitted to Fife Council.
“The utilisation of the existing landform, and retention of a large section of woodland to the north of the wood in addition to around its perimeter, will result in only a modest visual impact from the development, as confirmed by SNH.”
The spokesman continued: “We agree with SNH that, through the implementation of a suitable Species Protection Plan and the potential to enhance the retained woodland as part of the restoration proposals, along with the addition of further planting undertaken throughout the life of the quarry, there is potential for Kirkton Wood to support a population of red squirrels similar to that already present.
“We are also pleased to note SNH’s comments that the impact upon the badger population within the wood will be low during quarrying activities and negligible to neutral upon restoration.”
Local resident John Flegg said the campaign against the quarry would be moving up a gear as decision-day approached.
Opponents object to the number of sand quarries already in the area, increased heavy traffic and the potential impact on tourism, wildlife and the environment.
Mr Flegg said: “The campaign is continuing and a petition has collected many hundreds of names so far.
“It’s not coming before the planning committee for another four or five months as I understand it, so we will be stepping up the campaign nearer that time.
“We need to think about tourism and the environment rather than another quarry.”