Save Coul Links

In June 2022, a Proposal of Application Notice for an 18-hole golf course on the protected dunes of Coul Links was submitted to The Highland Council. This comes just two years after the Scottish Government turned down a previous application because of the damage it would have caused to nationally and internationally protected sites for nature. Buglife continues to work with our partners on the Save Coul Links Conservation Coalition to secure the future of this important site for invertebrates.

Update February 2024: The Scottish Government has called-in controversial plans to build a golf course on one of Scotland’s important and last remaining undeveloped dune systems, meaning they will make the final decision on whether the development can proceed. This move has been strongly welcomed by the Conservation Coalition of seven environmental charities, that is campaigning to save Coul Links in East Sutherland from the damaging development.  Read the full press release.

The Save Coul Links Conservation Coalition was formed by Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust to help save Coul Links – an internationally important wildlife site from the lasting damage that will occur if it is developed in to a golf course. We plan to present witnesses at the public inquiry that will outline the national and international environmental importance of Coul Links.

Coul Links, in the north of Scotland is a beautiful, natural coastal dune system, home to many species of wildlife. It contains some of the rarest habitats in Europe and is protected at local, national and European levels. A range of species can be found there throughout the year including Small Blue butterflies, Skylarks, otters, migrant geese, and plants such as Coral Root Orchid and Purple Milk Vetch. Coul Links is also home to a colony of coastal juniper trees and the internationally endangered Fonseca’s Seed Fly which is only found in East Sutherland.

Fonseca’s Seed Fly is one of the UK’s rarest endemic invertebrates, restricted globally to a short stretch of coast in northern Scotland. This species is found at Coul Links within the proposed golf course where its population is perilously small. It is thought to be closely associated with Ragwort, Sow-thistle and the sand dune systems found in this area. Stabilisation of the dunes and creation of fairways and greens for the proposed golf course will destroy the habitat for the species and further fragment the already fragile population.

Coul Links aerial © Craig Allardyce Coul Links aerial © Craig Allardyce

A golf course proposal for the site threatens to destroy this unique collection of dune habitats. The coastal dune habitat is one of the last of its kind left in Scotland and would be lost forever should the proposals get the go-ahead.

Unfortunately original proposals were consented by the Highland Council in 2018, against the advice of Council officials, SNH and numerous environmental groups. Thankfully, the Scottish Government put a stop to the application in 2020, after ‘calling-in’ the controversial golf proposals for further examination at a public inquiry due to natural heritage issues of ‘national importance’.

If this shocking development is allowed to go-ahead it would have terrible consequences for the natural environment. Once these unique habitats are lost, they cannot be replaced. This development would set a terrible precedent. If triple-protected Coul Links is allowed to be destroyed for a golf course – is anywhere safe from development?

(c) Jamie McKay

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