Conservationists are ready to fight plans to strip a world famous geological site of its status as a national nature reserve.
Naturalist Charles Darwin was so fascinated by the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy that he dropped his work on evolution to travel north to visit them.
But now there are fears the iconic landscape could lose a precious protective status it has held for more than six decades.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) wants to remove the area’s designation as a National Nature Reserve – and the plan has left local campaigners furious.
They have branded he move “unthinkable” and accused SNH of “selling the family silver”.
The Parallel Roads of Glen Roy were carved on the mountainsides by ancient glacial lakes as water repeatedly froze and melted.
They are narrow benches – several feet wide – and from a distance resemble roads.
Darwin visited the area in 1838 and revealed he was “astonished” by the features.
Today, they attract visitors from all over the globe.
Lochaber Geopark has now launched a petition against the SNH proposal and it attracted nearly 300 signatures in its first 24 hours.
A spokeswoman for the geopark said there were fears the land could be sold off if the designation was removed.
She said: “The de-designation of the Glen Roy NNR by SNH could lead to the land being sold off by SNH, which is the current landowner, and which inherited it from the Nature Conservancy Council.
“As the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy are internationally recognised for their importance, de-designation should be unthinkable.
“It is hard to imagine why SNH would spend tens of thousands of pounds in a process to de-designate the land simply to remove its NNR unless there are ulterior motives, such as sale or development of the land.
“The NNR title means so much to the local and international communities.”
She said that the removal of the designation contradicted the Scottish Government’s policies on land reform, adding that the SNH proposal was akin to “selling the family silver.”
The spokeswoman added: “Keeping the Glen Roy National Nature Reserve as a nationally-owned asset would assure local people and visitors that Scotland’s treasured countryside is safe with SNH.”
Last night, the group’s campaign won support from local politicians and business leaders.
Councillor Thomas MacLennan, leader of Highland Council’s Lochaber area committee, said: “These are natural features that are worth preserving. They are unique and the best examples of this phenomenon.”
And Frazer Coupland, of Lochaber Chamber of Commerce, said: “The geopark is hugely important for the identity of the area and I would share their concerns.
“Glen Roy is one of the natural icons of the area and it needs as much protection as we can give it.”
The petition will be presented to SNH before its board meeting on August 14, when members will discuss the future of the NNR.
Nigel Smith, SNH’s principal adviser on protected area effectiveness, said: “We recognise the importance of the Parallel Roads of Lochaber.
“It’s a beautiful and historic part of the Highlands and is also of significant scientific interest, and will continue to be protected.
“At the moment, 90% of the area is owned by a number of private owners and is protected legally as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
“We own the remaining 10% of the SSSI.
“The de-declaration will not change how well the area is protected, as it is also safeguarded as a SSSI under domestic legislation.
“We have no plans to sell our land in the SSSI.”