A Moray community is battling to save their woodland and wildlife from being bulldozed to make way for seven new houses.
Portessie residents are up in arms about plans for the Station Road development and launched an online petition, which already has nearly 2,000 signatures.
A crowdfunder is being considered to raise money to apply for a judicial review.
Campaigner Edwin Devlin said: “The need to keep this woodland and inner wetland from disappearing is of a great value to our children and the wildlife.
“Having carried out a survey with motion-activated cameras, newt traps, and my own observations, I can categorically testify with footage that this stretch of woodland is a thriving ecosystem of life.”
However, Morlich Homes, which is behind the housing scheme, say their “small-scale high quality” site will deliver “much-needed new build housing stock for the local area” and represents “a significant investment by the business into the Buckie and Moray economy in excess of £1.8 million”.
They say bat and swift nesting boxes will be perched on each of the properties and wildflower areas will run along service strips.
The application to build seven houses on woodland adjacent to number 1-5 Station Road, Portessie, was approved by Moray Council’s planning review body.
The developer appealed against an earlier decision to refuse.
In a five to three vote, the scheme was approved despite it contravening six key policies in the Moray local development plan.
A majority of councillors agreed that this was an “acceptable departure” based on “community benefit”, in terms of housing and the school roll.
Campaigners have launched a petition and a YouTube video among other social media messages.
Some of the wording of their 1,192-name petition, called Save the Slochy Station Hedgerow and Wildlife, says: “As you all know the woodlands at Station Road Portessie are to be eradicated wildlife and all for the erection of seven houses.
“The biodiversity of life in this sanctuary is a cornucopia of the avian, the mammalian, the amphibian, right down to the flora and insects.”
More than 40 people have left comments after signing.
Subtitles illustrating their drone video footage of the wooded area, shot by Mr Devlin, states: “An appraisal was carried out by an ecologist on the site.
“The outcome of this qualified ecologist is that the hedgerow and wetlands is of ‘fairly low conservation value’.
“There are only two places that I would class as ‘low conservation value’ and that is a town dump or or rows of tress grown so close together they block sunlight and noting grows there”.
Fellow Portessie campaigner Jan Simpson said a group of local residents are considering going down the legal route and a crowdfunder is being considered to possibly raise enough money to pay for the legal expenses.
She said: “This decision seems to be going against everything. Places like this have become even more important with the change in lifestyle that we all have now due to Covid.
“People here absolutely love this area, a lot of people have got really good memories playing there as children and going and visiting the local tadpole pond and now they’re taking their own children and grand-children. It’s full of different species of wildlife and my major concern is how much further will this developer go now that they have permission for seven houses.”
‘We believe these houses are needed’
In a statement, Morlich Homes said it complied with all regulations and Moray Council had carried out full wildlife and habitat surveys.
It was disappointed with “some of the misinformation that has been shared on social media” and said the house build scheme would sustain 40 jobs and deliver “much-needed new build housing stock”.
The statement added: “To date no-one from any community group has engaged directly with Morlich Homes Ltd to gain an understanding of how the development will be delivered with regards to protecting and sustaining wildlife within the vicinity of the site.
“The development of these properties will secure additional funding towards wider community facilities and affordable housing along with delivering 1,000 new trees which will be planted along the Southern site boundary.”