Wildlife experts have discovered one of Britain's rarest and most unique bees in an ancient Cairngorm woodland destined to be turned into a housing estate.

A single pinewood mason bee has been recorded and photographed on the site of a planned development at Rothiemurchus near Aviemore in the Cairngorm National Park. Known as An Camas Mòr and envisaging a 1,500-house new town, the scheme has long been opposed by conservationists.

The ginger and black bee can only be found in a few parts of the highlands, as it is dependent on sunshine, Scots pine trees and one particular flower, bird’s foot trefoil. It is a solitary bee without a hive, and burrows in holes left in old trees by longhorn beetles.

It was found earlier this month by Dr Gus Jones, convener of the Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group. “This find again shows that the An Camas Mòr area in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park has precious wildlife,” he says.

“To pretend options exist for construction of a new town here that are sustainable and leave natural heritage interests unscathed is to ignore ecological understanding of this special area.”

According to Jones, earlier environmental surveys missed the bee, perhaps because it can only be seen in good weather. He has reported his find to the developers and to the Cairngorm National Park Authority.

“The presence of a rare bee like the pinewood mason bee offers vital lessons about the need for adequate baseline surveys at an appropriately early stage in the planning process,” he says.

“This is especially important in sensitive protected areas where avoiding damaging degradation of precious habitats is particularly appropriate and requires more than lip service.”

Craig Macadam, Scotland director of the conservation group, Buglife, says that the bee’s discovery shows how important An Camas Mòr is for insects. “Development of this site without understanding the full impact on this bee or the other threatened invertebrates could push these species closer to extinction in Scotland,” he warns.

The Cairngorm park authority, which has approved the housing scheme, recognises the significance of the find. “Like most of the Cairngorms National Park, there is a wide range of natural heritage interest on and around the location for An Camas Mòr,” says the park’s conservation director, Hamish Trench.

“The mason bee is one amongst many natural heritage interests that we are working to ensure are addressed through specific management and conservation measures incorporated in the masterplan for the long term development of a new community at An Camus Mòr.”