ISLANDERS were left stunned when a landing barge invaded the tranquility of an idyllic Hebridean beach and began unloading heavy construction machinery.

Residents have complained after rock pecker machines were driven across the pristine white sand at Gallanach and began channelling a route through the cliff face, adjacent to the beach.

The land belongs to islander Neil Smith, a director of Gallanach Green Generation Limited, which has permission to build a 250ft 750kw wind turbine a short distance from the beach.

However, progress on the plan has been stalled after an appeal to allow machinery and equipment to be taken to the site on the island's fragile single track road was rejected last summer.

Locals believe work is now under way to channel a route through ancient rocks, so that an alternative road can be built, through Mr Smith's land, to serve the turbine site.

Complaints have poured in to Independent Councillor Roddy McCuish, from Oban, whose ward on Argyll and Bute Council includes the remote island.

And following reports that rock pecking work had started on Bank Holiday Monday, planning officers visited Mr Smith on Coll on Thursday.

On Friday night, residents complained to Councillor McCuish, Chair of the council's Oban, Lorn and the Isles Area Committee, that work, with the distinctive noise of the rock peckers, was still going on after 10pm.

Councillor McCuish said: "I am absolutely devastated at the vandalism that is taking place on the isle of Coll at the moment. This is environmental vandalism and it can't continue."

Fellow councillor Neil MacIntyre added: "It's a disgrace, to destroy a beautiful area, it's very sad."

Coll resident Pat Graham, one of the objectors, said: "It's an absolute travesty. He has brought in a rock pecker and it is pecking away at the rocks. A barge got landed with a whole load of aggregate."

Objectors fear that diesel may leak from the machinery on to the beach.

Mrs Graham said: "We are very concerned, it's one of those areas where seals breed and Coll relies on its wildlife."

Colin Scott, chairman of the Isle of Coll Heritage Trust, said: "There is certainly a lot of concern. On Friday the work of the jack hammering went on until about 10.15pm breaking up rock on the cliff side to make, as we understand it, a roadway to the site of the proposed turbine and he has no permission for this."

He said there were at least 50 to 60 objectors to the current rock works and added that 102 people, out of an adult electorate of 137, had signed a petition against the wind turbine application.

The turbine did, however, receive planning permission, but with a condition requiring a plan, agreed by the council, before the island road could be used to transport materials.

The Reporter who turned down an appeal by Gallanach Green Generation Limited to press for a decision on the road use plan said there was concern over the risk that Coll's fragile and only road would collapse under weight of the materials destined for the turbine site.

There was also concern that the road could become obstructed. which could cause problems for emergency vehicles and doctors.

Mr Smith said yesterday that he did not want to comment.

Informed that people were complaining about work going on late at night, without planning permission, he said: "I have nothing to say at all."