A nature enthusiast from Rhu is calling for legal protection to be given to a stretch of "precious" bluebell woodland close the village which, she says, is being destroyed by mountain bikers.

Audrey Baird says the bikers have built wide tracks and jumps through Whistler's Glen Bluebell Woods, near Smuggler's Way, and many of the flowers have been trampled on, cycled over and dug up.

Describing the area as a "tiny slice of natural magic", Audrey fears the wood will be scarred permanently unless the track-building stops.

She told the Advertiser: "The damage being done over the previous fortnight during 'lockdown' will scar this small wood for many years.

"If the damage continues the natural magic will soon be gone."

Audrey said while she accepted that the mountain bikers were there with the landowner's permission, and were not acting illegally, it was regrettable that precious stands of ancient bluebell woodland such as this had no protection in law.

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She said: "Mountain biking is a great sport with lots of health benefits. Representatives from that sport need to be consulted to find out what they consider to be a desirable and safe bike track and if the new one at Whistler’s Glen Ancient Bluebell Wood fits the bill."

Audrey, whose wildlife surveys in the wood have found nesting buzzards, owls, otters and bats, has emailed a range of politicians, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Argyll and Bute Council, Rhu and Shandon Community Council, conservation bodies and community groups to raise awareness of the matter.

She said: "I just want some questions asked about whether constructing a bike tack through an ancient bluebell wood is desirable or safe, because with owner permission it is currently legal.

"I want to support any efforts, in particular the current review of the National Planning Framework that includes ancient woodlands, to give our beautiful woods some more protection if possible."

However, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Woodland Trust Scotland have told Audrey they do not think there is any action that can be taken if the path has the landowner’s permission.

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SNH said: "Whilst there is a general presumption against felling ancient woodland, this track hasn’t involved any tree felling.

"[We] don’t think this would count as development in relation to planning control – if it is a simple mud track then it would count as temporary, and recovery would be expected if it ceased to be used."

The Woodland Trust says it will raise the Rhu bluebell woods in consultations it is carrying out on the National Planning Framework.

Audrey, who works for NHS Highland, is co-ordinator of Helensburgh and Lomond Health and Wellbeing Network and a supporter of the mental health charity Acumen.

She says the beneficial effects of nature on people's mental health is well documented, and added: "People stuck in flats in cities all over the UK are dreaming of getting out into their favourite green spaces and being welcomed from their lockdown by carpets of bluebells in places like Whistler's Glen Ancient Bluebell wood.

"All these millions of people need to know beautiful bluebell woods can be destroyed in the blink of an eye if nobody is watching and no legal protection is secured."

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