PLANS to dredge a huge area of the seabed at Hunterston as part of an oil rig decommissioning yard project has been uncovered by a freedom of information request.

A total of 2.4 million cubic metres of subsea dredging has been requested by Peel Ports - a 12 fold increase on the original 150,000 to 200,000m3 which featured in their application to North Ayrshire Council in 2017.

Concerns have been raised that the application could have a drastic impact on the neighbouring Southannan Sands.

The new dredging plan came to light as a result of a request to the Scottish Government from environmental campaigners.

Marine Scotland previously advised the developer that Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not required, however that position has now come under review given the proposals for significantly increased dredging volume.

Marine Scotland have declined to accept the most recent license application from the developer, and subsequently met with Peel Ports, who have agreed to submit a further EIA screening request based on these updates.

Environmental campaigners say that the new licence application details should be made public.

Fairlie man David Telford, who is involved with the group trying to block the development, said: "The true amount of subsea dredging is an extraordinary disparity.

"It is also clear that such a vast removal of dredged material must inevitably lead to the complete destruction of the important site of scientific interest (SSSI) at Southannan Sands that is adjacent to the proposed decommissioning facility.

"This seems an extraordinary state of affairs and ironic that it has come to light in the same week that the SSSI at Menie Dunes in Aberdeenshire is said to have been destroyed by profiteering development."

Independent councillor Ian Murdoch has also raised the matter with council chiefs.

He told the News: "I have written to the chief executive of North Ayrshire Council concerning this.

"I fear this extensive increase in sand dredging could destroy the SSSI site."

The Scottish Government consider that detailed consideration of the dredging impacts upon the SSSI at Southannan Sands are a matter 'best left for the further future consideration of Marine Scotland'.

They said: "It remains open at this time for Marine Scotland to further consider the details of the emerging altered dredging works upon the SSSI, in reaching an updated conclusion on EIA under the relevant marine regulations."

A spokesperson for Peel Ports said, “Peel Ports appreciates the concerns of the local community with regards to the environment.

"All potential environmental effects will have to be fully assessed and mitigated in collaboration with Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, who are the custodians of the natural environment.

"Peel Ports will adhere to the appropriate statutory environmental requirements."

The Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) comprises sections which are of 'national significance' for intertidal sandflats which are popular grounds for lugworss, crab and shrimp and mussels and cockles), especially on the lower shores.

The sandflats support a variety of wintering, migratory and breeding wildfowl and waders, including species such as shelduck, eider, oystercatcher, lapwing,and redshank.

The habitat is also important for fish species when flooded at high tide.