SHAMELESS fly-tippers have put a rare nature reserve in Greenock under threat by illegally dumping Japanese knotweed on the land.

Campaigners have been left horrified as the outlawed plant spreads rapidly in the Cove Community Nature Reserve.

The land close to Inverclyde Royal is home to an extremely rare ecosystem and is also a site of historical significance.

Members of the Friends of Coves Community Nature Reserve, which was set up to protect the site, are horrified at the unwanted discovery.

Councillor Natasha Murphy, who is a founder member of the group said: "It is just so disappointing after all the work we are doing.

"This is a really important site.

"We spotted the waste dumped on the land - there was so much of it, it must be commercial waste.

"We suspected it was Japanese knotweed, and then it just started to grow.

"You can't cut it or do anything with it until it is fully grown.

"It just spreads so quickly.

"I can't believe people would do this.

"We just don't know how to stop it."

The careless dumping of Japanese knotweed was outlawed in 1981 to stop the spread of an invasive plant which spreads rapidly and is hard to control.

It is believed it can cause structural damage to buildings.

Campaigners Marie Stonehouse together with fellow volunteer Mark McVey are keen to stamp out the fly-tipping.

Marie said: "The reserve is unchanged, it is extremely rare.

"We should all be protecting this land not fly-tipping on it."

Coves was designated a local nature reserve in 1998 but it has suffered from years of neglect.

The Friends group was recently set up to attract funding to protect the site which includes reservoirs, woodland, grassland and wetland and encourage visitors.

The group have been working closely together to organise litter picks, as well as maintenance of paths and land management.

It is also home to the historic Second World War heavy anti-aircraft battery defences, which have been targeted by vandals.

The Friends Group have reported the fly tipping to Inverclyde Council.