OTTERS and bats have been identified as possible obstacles to Helensburgh’s proposed new leisure centre.

Reports carried out by an Argyll and Bute Council biodiversity officer, and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), have urged for full surveys to be carried out for the animals.

And a marine and coastal development officer has warned that the possible development could result in a criminal offence if any otters are killed, harmed or even disturbed during construction.

Both otters and bats are protected species in Europe, and it is advised that great care needs to be taken if either is found to be inhabiting the proposed waterfront site.

The council has carried out surveys on both.

A report by Lorraine Holdstock, the council’s marine and coastal development officer said: “Otters are classed as European Protected Species under the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Act 1994.

“This means that otters could be affected by the development, and if no action were taken to prevent it, the development runs the risk of committing an offence.

“Where impacts that would result in an offence cannot be avoided, a species licence can be issued in some cases to allow the works to proceed.

“Such licences will only be issued if certain tests are met. It is important that any licensing issues are considered as part of any planning application.

“There is a high likelihood of otters being present; therefore it is recommended that an otter survey will be required.”

Meanwhile, the council was also warned that a bat survey should be carried out in a report by Ruari Dunsmuir, SNH’s operations officer for Argyll and the Outer Hebrides.

Mr Dunsmuir said: “All bat species found in Scotland are classed as European protected species.

“The current leisure centre has been classed as having a moderate suitability for roosting bats in the primary ecological appraisal.

“We strongly recommend that a bat survey should be carried out by a suitably experienced person prior to any works on the existing leisure centre.

“Where bats, roosts or any other sign of bats are found on or near the development site, a species protection plan should be drawn up.”

Mr Dunsmuir’s report adds: “The presence of otter has been recorded on site along with the identification of suitable coastal habitat surrounding the Helensburgh Waterfront.

“We note, however, that there are no holts or resting up places located within 250 metres of the proposal.

“We would recommend that a pre-construction survey for otter be conducted no more than 10-12 months in advance of construction.”

An Argyll and Bute council spokesperson said: “The surveys were carried out as a result of the routine environmental studies required for any project of this scale.”