Almost 200,000 people have signed a petition demanding protection of a north-east forest which is home to wildcats.
Conservation group Wildcat Haven has launched an online petition over plans to build 16 new turbines at Clashindarroch, south-west of Huntly, over fears for the creatures who live in the area.
Swedish energy firm Vattenfall, which tabled the plans, already has a wind farm at the site but conservationists claim the second would see a quarter of the forest felled, destroying the animals’ territories and den sites.
The petition to the Scottish Government, which has attracted almost 200,000 signatures so far, claims there are only 35 wildcats left with at least 13 located in the Aberdeenshire forest and “in danger from logging”.
It added: “It is their last and only known major stronghold and breeding site.
“But logging is taking place in the middle of kitten season, disturbing wildcat mothers, which could make them abandon or even eat their young.
“The logging will tear the wildcat population apart.”
Steve Piper, a wildlife filmmaker and expert wildcat conservationist who started the petition, said it’s “appalling” that the Forestry Commission are clear-felling the area.
He said: “The Highlands is full of bare hills so why do we need another wind farm on the only one with a resident wildcat population?”
A spokesman for Forest Enterprise Scotland, said the claims were “unsubstantiated and “unqualified”.
He said: “Clashindarroch is a productive forest and is managed sustainably to internationally recognised standards.
“An important part of our stewardship involves carrying out a huge range of actions to conserve wildcats and other important species such as red squirrels, woodland grouse and birds of prey.
“There are wind farm proposals for the area but, should they be progressed by the developers, any plans will be subject to the full environmental impact assessment, public consultation and planning processes.”
Alison Daugherty, Vattenfall’s project manager for the development of Clashindarroch II, said: “Vattenfall and our partners have undertaken extensive environmental studies over several years and this will continue as we prepare and invite the scrutiny of a rigorously prepared environmental impact assessment.
“What the evidence currently shows is the wildcat population in Clashindarroch Forest is unaffected by our four-year-old operational wind farm. We will propose a new scheme – Clashindarroch II – that does no harm to the existing population and, with habitat enhancement elsewhere in the forest, further protects this sensitive species.”