A conservation charity has voiced concerns over the impact of a major road project on ancient woodlands.
Earlier this year, Transport Scotland revealed several options for the dualling of the A96 between Aberdeen and Huntly.
It includes various plans for rerouting in the area around Inverurie.
Two public consultation events have already been held into the proposals for the 26-mile stretch of road, with around 1,300 people taking part in the second in May.
Now the Woodland Trust has hit out at the plans over fears about the impact it could have on forests in the area.
It is claimed a total of 14 areas of historic woodland could be affected by the plans across the various proposed routes.
The Woodland Trust says even the most agreeable route would cut through seven of these, while the worst possible one would see the road go through 11 of the sites.
Campaigner Nicole Hillier said: “The Woodland Trust is very concerned about the proposed route options on account of direct loss of several areas of ancient woodland.
“The route options proposed – regardless of which is chosen – would each bisect several areas of ancient woodland in half, leading to exposure of the stable woodland interior to significant disturbance from human activity.
“The trust is concerned that there will be serious impacts to the remaining woodland, from increased noise and light pollution from traffic as well as dust pollution during construction of the proposal.
“The woodlands will also be subjected to increased nitrogen oxide emissions from vehicles, which can change the character of woodland vegetation through altering nutrient conditions.
“Furthermore, where the wood edges overhang the road network, branches and even whole trees can be indiscriminately lopped or felled, causing reduction of the woodland canopy as well as changes to the hydrology of the woodlands by altering ground water and surface water quantities.”
The Woodland Trust stated that its preferred option for any new route would involve a 50-metre “buffer zone” between the new road and any of the 14 areas of ancient woodland.
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “As part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to dualling the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen, we are progressing the design work for the east of Huntly to Aberdeen stretch of the route.
“Having let local residents see and comment on the initial options last October, we held further engagement events in May for the remaining options being taken forward for further assessment and over 1,300 people took the opportunity to come along and view the material.
“All feedback received is vital and will be taken into consideration as we look to identify a preferred option for the scheme later this year.
“We value the environment we are working in and place particular emphasis on striking a balance between delivering the A96 Dualling and respecting the sensitivities of the corridor.
“The in-depth planning and design work we are taking forward includes an environmental assessment of the options under consideration to ensure that we deliver the right scheme and keep impacts on the environment, communities, and businesses to the absolute minimum.”