Internationally protected site 'under threat' from 18-hole golf course

Proposals were submitted to the Highland Council last month.

National Trust, RSPB Scotland and five others in environmental coalition warn of Coul Links golf course plans Craig Allardyce
Coul Links: Aerial view of site. (Craig Allardyce).

Seven of Scotland’s leading environmental organisations have raised concerns over plans to build a golf course at a protected site in the Highlands.

The National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and five others have joined together to highlight potential issues that they say would bring “irreparable harm” to the natural habitat of Coul Links in East Sutherland.

A proposal was submitted to the Highland Council last month explaining how developer C4C (Communities for Coul) intents to submit planning application for the 18-hole course.

According to C4C, a community ballot, held in Summer 2021, showed almost 70% of local people were in favour of the new course.

The developer describes itself as a not-for-profit company run by “people from the Dornoch Firth area, who believe we should stand up and be counted on local issues which affect our lives”.

It comes just two years after the Scottish Government turned down a previous application because of the damage it would have caused to sites protected for nature.

The coalition of Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, Marine Conservation Society, the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, have spent over four years campaigning to prevent the development at Coul Links.

The Conservation Coalition said its concerned about the impact that any development of this type and scale would have on the protected areas remain unresolved.

The group is particularly concerned as the location remains the same as the previous application and has warned that such a development would result in “irreparable harm” to a wild range of wildlife.

Bruce Wilson from the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “We are really concerned that the internationally protected Coul Links is once again under threat from a golf course. It’s incredibly disappointing to see that these new plans don’t appear to address the environmental concerns that were part of the previous refusal.

“The Scottish Government refused the last proposal in February 2020 because of the significant impacts it would have had on the international and national conservation designations, adversely affecting wintering and breeding birds, invertebrates, and rare vegetation types – even after mitigation – due to disturbance and habitat loss.

“Since then, part of the dunes at Menie, where Donald Trump was allowed to build a golf course despite many concerns being raised, have lost their protected status due to the damage caused by another insensitive development.

“We are in a nature and climate emergency. Ensuring protected areas are respected is a critical part of tackling these crises. Developers shouldn’t be pursuing environmentally damaging proposals that put Scotland’s special places for wildlife at risk.

“The members of the Conservation Coalition will be considering the proposals carefully before submitting comments.

“We encourage anyone concerned about saving nature to raise concerns they have through the pre-application process by emailing buildcoul@gmail.com and contacting their local MSP.”

C4C has been contacted for comment.

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