Lochaber area is given special protection status

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Two nature conservation sites which are habitats for hen harriers and otters have received extra protection.

The extension to the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area designated under the EU Birds Directive will protect a range of species including the hen harrier and merlin.

It is part of an ambitious package of measures, including a £10 million Scottish Government investment, to restore the Powharnal and Grievehill opencast sites in East Ayrshire.

The Glen Beasdale Special Area of Conservation, which is designated under the EU Habitats Directive for its oak wood habitat and otters, will be extended to compensate for habitat losses following the upgrading of the A830 trunk road from Arisaig, near Mallaig, to Loch nan Uamh.

The extensions will apply legal protection to the areas and set new requirements for the management of those sites.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, said: ‘I am very pleased to announce these additions to Scotland’s network of protected areas. Scotland has a major part of the UK’s contribution to the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected sites, with more than 15 per cent of our land area designated for a wealth of habitats and species.

‘Land managers are doing great work maintaining these incredibly valuable natural assets, with these new extensions set to provide further protection.’

Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, added: ‘The extension of the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area is very positive news and RSPB Scotland welcomes the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to the EU Natura 2000 network of protected sites for nature.

‘We are pleased to have been able to work with the Scottish Government and other partners to help redress some of the damage caused by opencast coal mining on wildlife and to ensure the protection of hen harriers and other birds in this important upland area.’

The extensions follow a consultation on behalf of Scottish ministers by Scottish Natural Heritage.