A ZONE to protect marine wildlife off the west coast of Scotland has been redrawn after a Swiss-owned super-quarry company complained it would damage business.
The move has been attacked by residents and wildlife groups for putting corporate power before nature. It is “very concerning” that Government agencies gave in to what the company wanted, they say.
Aggregate Industries, owned by LafargeHolcim, based in Jona, Switzerland, runs a huge, £40 million granite quarry at Glensanda on the shore of Loch Linnhe, on the Morvern peninsula. It is planning to boost its production from six to 15 million tonnes a year, shipping rock in large boats to markets across Europe.
The company objected to a Marine Protected Area (MPA) covering a large area of sea around the island of Mull from Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura. The MPA was meant to help conserve the common skate, an ancient and highly endangered fish known as the “giant panda of the sea”.
In a submission in 2013, Aggregate Industries argued that the MPA boundary between Morvern and the island of Lismore should be moved six miles along Loch Linnhe to keep it away from the quarry harbour. The Sunday Herald has now discovered that the Government wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), agreed.
This has infuriated locals like Simon Lewis, a 55-year-old crofter on Lismore. “Corporate influence has trumped the protection of marine wildlife here, with local planners and now the Scottish Government giving in time and time again to the Glensanda super-quarry operators,” he said.
He accused Aggregate Industries of thinking it had the right to demand that Government agencies toe the line. Jobs at Glensanda had no long-term security, he argued, while protecting marine wildlife would create “investment in real jobs with real long-term potential”.
Lewis pointed out that there had been a major accident at the quarry in 2010, when one of the company boats caught fire and set off an explosion. “I shudder to think of the impacts if there was another accident like that,” he said.
Sarah Dolman, marine vice-convener of the umbrella group Scottish Environment Link, said: “This is a very concerning example of industry trumping protection ... SNH’s decision is disappointing and a commitment to long-term, robust monitoring is essential to ensure the conservation objectives are met.”
The Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands, John Finnie, called on SNH to explain how it reached a decision on the MPA boundary. “The profits of a multinational must not take priority over the protection of precious wildlife and habitats,” he warned.
According to SNH, the question was whether redrawing the boundary negatively affected the ability of the MPA to achieve its conservation objectives. “A decision to change a boundary will only be made following scientific consideration,” SNH’s marine survey manager, Ben James, told the Sunday Herald.
“Informed by discussions with lead scientists at Marine Scotland Science, our view in this case was that the change proposed by Glensanda did not materially compromise the scientific advice and therefore could be accommodated,” he said.
The MPA was one of the biggest in the Scottish network, James added: “It encompasses a complex underwater landscape of channels and troughs created by glaciers during the last ice age.”
Aggregate Industries stressed that any decision to alter the MPA boundary was solely for Government. “It is likely that any adjustment will have been made to strike a balance between the important protection of habitat and species, and the crucial role shipping plays in the local economy,” said a company spokesman.
“Glensanda employs 200 people and provides vital construction materials for projects across the UK and northern Europe.
“Without a viable shipping route, the quarry simply wouldn’t operate.”