It was once the site of the largest explosives factory in the world and was where Sir Alfred Nobel first produced dynamite. At its peak the plant employed more than 13,000 workers.

But now the vast site of the British Dynamite Factory in Ardeer, Ayrshire, has become home to hundreds of important birds, bugs and other species that campaigners say must be protected by preventing development in the area.

The Ardeer peninsula has been described by the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) as “one of the richest areas for wildlife in Scotland”.

Home to one of the largest sand dune systems in south Scotland, it is under threat, however, by proposals to develop the complex habitats.

In recent years about 20 hectares of dunes have been destroyed through commercial sand extraction within five extraction sites.

This is due to a Special Development Order dating to 1953 that means development can take place in large swathes of the peninsula without the detailed planning permission that would be required elsewhere in Scotland.

However, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and RSPB Scotland are now calling on North Ayrshire Council to ensure the entire site is safeguarded from inappropriate development.

In a letter to the council, the conservation charities highlight the importance of the Ardeer peninsula’s natural environment, and ask for a Strategic Environmental Assessment to be carried out ahead of proposed large-scale development on the peninsula.

This process would highlight any potential negative impacts that new-build developments and increased public access could have on Ardeer’s natural environment.

A Memorandum of Understanding signed by North Ayrshire Council and NPL Group earlier this year lists a number of potential developments on the Ardeer peninsula, which could be funded through the Ayrshire Growth Deal.

These include a new road bridge linking Ardeer to Irvine, large leisure and tourism developments, and houses. The agreement also proposes repairing the footbridge that crosses the harbour.

The charities argue that, without careful planning, these developments could damage fragile habitats and lead to increased disturbance to sensitive wildlife.

Disappointingly, they say, the Memorandum of Understanding makes no mention of Ardeer’s important natural heritage, or the need to protect its important biodiversity.

Bruce Wilson, public affairs manager for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “Ardeer is home to an impressive range of wildlife that should be celebrated and protected for future generations. 

“Sadly, the plans that have been outlined give no indication that its natural importance is even recognised.

“It is vital the natural environment is taken into account within any plans for development on Ardeer. 

Naturalists have recorded more than 1,500 species, including birds, mammals, plants and insects on the peninsula, supported by a variety of sand dune habitats that are themselves among the most important of their kind in Scotland.

Among the species recorded are 121 types of birds, including barn owls, hen harriers and snow buntings; 16 mammal species, three amphibians and almost 
350 types of beetle.

There are also 216 kinds of moths and butterflies, 93 spider species and 322 other types of insects including bees, flies and wasps, along with 273 species of trees and wildflowers and 70 fungi, lichens and bryophytes.

Having already established factories in Stockholm and Hamburg, Sir Alfred Nobel turned his attentions to the potentially very lucrative market in England – but was met with strict safety regulations and ended up in Scotland instead.

Sir Alfred took out a British patent for dynamite in May 1867 and began a publicity campaign to convince the authorities and potential users of the safety of his new explosive. He eventually acquired 100 acres from the Earl of Eglinton, and established the British Dynamite Factory in 1871.

He went on to create what was described then as the largest explosives factory in the world. 

The sand and dunes on the site provided natural safety features for the site and its workers.

Iain Hamlin, secretary of the Friends of Stevenston conservation group, said: “The southern end of Ardeer has a natural coastal environment that is unrivalled in the south of Scotland. Similar sites attract huge numbers of visitors each year. 

“Badly planned development would put the potential of the area 
to attract low-impact wildlife tourism at risk.”