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Conservation alliance calls on public to defend irreplaceable natural jewel

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Internationally important dunelands in Sutherland threatened by exclusive golf course plans

A coalition of Scotland’s leading conservation charities is asking the public to support their objections to The Highland Council on the proposed destruction of Coul Links – an irreplaceable piece of Scotland’s natural heritage.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, Buglife Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society are campaigning against an application to construct a golf course that has been submitted to Highland Council on behalf of Mike Keiser, a billionaire American investor.

Coul Links hosts a dune ecosystem of national and international importance and is protected by multiple conservation designations (1, 2, 3).  It is home to a wide range of plants, birds, insects and other animals. Many of these species such as curlew, whinchat, and Fonseca’s seed fly, unique to this part of Sutherland, are rare or in severe decline elsewhere in the UK and are unlikely to remain following damage to the dune environment (4). 

Buglife’s Craig Macadam commented. “Fonseca’s seed fly may not mean much to most people, but as the only place in the world where it occurs we are the guardians of this species and have an international responsibility to protect it for future generations. Extinction is forever, there is no second chance. Almost a decade on from the massively environmentally damaging in Aberdeenshire being given approval, the same mistakes must not be made again.”

Davie Black of Plantlife said: "The proposed destruction of Coul Links, one of Scotland's last remaining coastal dune systems, would be a disaster and must be wholeheartedly opposed by all those who care about nature and heritage. 

"Coastal dune systems are threatened ecosystems across the UK and no more must be bulldozed to make way for sterilised fairways; already too many irreplaceable Scottish habitats have been carved up to make way for golf courses. 

"The fragmentation of the dune environment which would occur if development is permitted would further imperil rare plants such as sea centuary, purple milk-vetch, moonwort and frog orchid and the insects and other animals and birds that they support. It is essential for nature that Coul Links remains undisturbed."

Jonathan Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and a former local resident said: “We would urge anyone who is concerned about the fate of Scotland’s wildlife and natural landscapes to make their voices heard by writing to The Highland Council.

“Coul Links is a truly exceptional stretch of wild, unspoilt coast, valued for its natural beauty by locals and visitors alike. It seems extraordinary that this internationally important dune system is under threat from yet another golf course proposal and it’s vital we protect it for future generations to enjoy. ” 

“Almost a decade after the approval of the environmentally damaging Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, it is unthinkable that we could lose yet another irreplaceable duneland to a development which is clearly not needed.”

To make your views known, visit the Highland Council website directly, click on planning applications and search for (17/04601/FUL) and follow the instructions in order to make a comment. Visit for more information on how to make your voice heard.

  1. Coul Links are protected as part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area which has been designated for its importance to foraging osprey in the summer and for thousands of over-wintering wildfowl and waders. It supports internationally important wintering populations of Icelandic greylag goose, wigeon and bar-tailed godwit and nationally important populations of teal, scaup, curlew and redshank.
  2. Coul Links are also protected as part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar site which is designated for its sand dune, saltmarsh and estuary habitats that are of international importance for their flora and geomorphology. The Ramsar citation notes that the tidal flats support internationally important numbers of waterfowl in winter and are the most northerly and substantial extent of intertidal habitat for wintering waterfowl in Europe. See Ramsar Citation Dornoch Firth & Loch Fleet.
  3. Coul Links are also part of the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest, designated because of its important intertidal and coastal habitats, vascular plant assemblages and breeding and over-wintering birds. The SSSI citation notes that Coul Links is an extensive dune system which is unusual in displaying a complete transition from foredune to slacks with well developed coastal heathland in drier areas. See SSSI Citation Loch Fleet.
  4. There is a rich floral diversity including variegated horsetail, purple milk-vetch, rue-leaved saxifrage, moonwort and frog orchid. Breeding birds include ringed plover, oystercatcher, shelduck, eider, arctic tern, common tern, little tern, wheatear, sedge warbler and reed bunting and over-wintering birds include waders, geese, a nationally important population of eider that benefits from the low level of human disturbance and other ducks. The Links are also noted for the presence of the Fonseca’s seed fly, an endemic species restricted to a short stretch of dunes in northern Scotland, part of which is within the footprint of the development. Other animals recorded at Coul Links include pine marten and wildcat.

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