Old Moor nature reserve could be 'devastated' if land to the north of the RSPB site is developed for employment use, says a Barnsley ecologist.
Peter Middleton was shocked to discover agricultural land north of the reserve and south of Doncaster Road, between Cathill roundabout and Goldthorpe, could be given planning designation for employment use.
It has been earmarked as part of Barnsley Council's development plan which identifies greenbelt land to be used for employment and housing.
Mr Middleton, of Wilthorpe Road, Barnsley, is worried it could have a devastating effect on the reserve.
The consultant ecologist and secretary of Barnsley Bird Study Group said: "The RSPB has worked hard to improve the area for wildlife and it has cost millions of pounds.
"If the land is to be developed, it would seriously damage the ecological value of the site because in reality the reserve would become an island surrounded by development.
"Also, it seriously undermines the work being undertaken for the Dearne Nature Improvement Area, of which Barnsley Council is a partner."
He said the affected area is used in winter by as many as 10,000 golden plover birds.
"Everyone understands the town is in urgent need of jobs and sensible environmentalists would not oppose building on the greenbelt to achieve this aim - provided there is some consideration of the impacts on Barnsley's most important areas for wildlife.
"The whole thing is a bit of a nightmare for the RSPB. Any development on there would completely ruin the reserve because of the impact on the ecology of the site.
"It's a real sickener, especially when I can think of several other suitable sites in the borough that would not have such a devastating impact on the wildlife."
He said RSPB Old Moor Reserve is a success story for Barnsley and has been applauded for attracting wildlife, and believes its economic contribution to Barnsley cannot be underestimated.
Matthew Capper, site manager for the RSPB’s Dearne Valley reserves, said: "We have been made aware of the proposed plans for the area north of Old Moor reserve, and have been involved with the council's consultation.
"At this stage we are looking into the potential impact a development of this kind could have on the reserve and the wildlife in the Dearne Valley, and will be sharing our findings with the council."