THE Scottish Seabird Centre has criticised a decision to exclude the puffin from a new list of the country's favourite wildlife, which has been compiled as part of a £350,000 advertising campaign.

The award-winning conservation charity said the decision to leave the popular seabird off "The Big Five" species, comprising the otter, red deer, harbour seal, red squirrel and golden eagle, is inexcusable.

Scottish Natural Heritage and VisitScotland created the list and want people to vote for their favourite wildlife. They say those who are unhappy with their Big Five selection can back the seabird in their contest as well.

Now the Scottish Seabird Centre has set up its own competition to give people the chance to vote for the "People's Big Five".

Tom Brock, chief executive of the centre in North Berwick, said: "It is absurd the Big Five should omit our iconic seabirds, notably the much-loved puffin.

"Scotland's seabirds are of international importance: Scotland is home to almost half (45%) of all of Europe's seabirds and more than 60% of the world's North Atlantic gannets nest in Scotland.

"To exclude all seabirds from the Big Five defies logic."

Mr Brock said that for many people an encounter with a puffin or dolphin could be nothing short of a deeply emotional experience, leaving impressions that last a lifetime.

He added: "We're out to redress the balance.

"We now encourage all members of the public to tell us what species they believe ought to feature in our 'People's Big Five' – our unofficial list, a Big Five that truly represents Scotland's most iconic and best-loved animals."

Mr Brock said his views took nothing away from the initiative's aims, which he backed, and the campaign's overarching aim to get everyone talking about and discovering Scotland's nature.

The campaign will result in the five species being advertised on billboards in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and backed by publicity on radio in newspapers and online.

The 20 foot-tall roadside billboards will depict a series of images which include a golden eagle in the Cairngorms, red deer in Glen Affric in the Highlands, harbour seals on Skye, red squirrel at Loch Awe in Argyll and an otter on the Isle of Mull.

The public are being asked to vote on which species in Scotland's celebrated wildlife is worthy of featuring in the Year of Natural Scotland.

But SNH and Visit Scotland say they are also advising voters that if they don't fancy any of the five to "pick one of the country's other stunning species, including red kites or capercaillies".

A VisitScotland spokesman said: "The omission of puffins from the Big Five seems to have certainly ruffled a few feathers with our friends at the Scottish Sea Bird Centre.

"The initiative was always intended to provoke discussion and we're glad that they decided to be so vocal about it, and why shouldn't they be?

"Fans of puffins are more than welcome to join in the vote by selecting it in the other category on our website."

SNH spokesman Calum MacFarlane said: "We chose five animals that most people, if they want, can see in many parts of Scotland at almost any time of year. It wasn't an easy job choosing the Big Five, so we're keen to hear other people's favourites.

"We have quite a lot of puffin fans at SNH as well, and we're delighted the Seabird Centre is livening up the discussion."