The coalition of environmental conservation organisations fighting to save Coul Links have welcomed the start of a public inquiry today into whether the controversial proposals should go ahead.
The inquiry in Clashmore near Dornoch, which is due to last at least four weeks, will hear evidence from a number of experts on why the internationally and nationally important wildlife site is completely unsuitable for a golf course and should be saved from such a damaging development. The fate of this important nature site will then lie with Scottish Ministers, with the coalition urging them to do the right thing and save it.
Witnesses giving evidence on behalf of the conservation coalition are Craig Macadam, Buglife Scotland’s Conservation Director, Jonny Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and a Global Councillor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Dr Lucy Wright, a Principal Scientist at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, and Butterfly Conservation’s Dr Mark Young, an Emeritus senior lecturer at Aberdeen University.
The inquiry was triggered by the Scottish Minister’s decision to ‘call in’ the proposals due to “issues of national importance in relation to natural heritage issues”. The plans for the proposals were passed by Highlands Councillors despite over 1,800 objections being lodged and the Council’s own planners recommending refusal. A Save Coul Links e-action run by the coalition last year prompted almost 13,000 people to take action by contacting MSPs and Scottish Ministers about the proposals.
Coul Links is one of the most protected nature sites in Scotland and one of the last remaining undisturbed dune systems of its kind in Scotland. It is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area and Ramsar Site.
The proposed golf course could have hugely detrimental impacts on its wildlife and habitats.
Aedán Smith, Head of Planning and Development, RSPB Scotland said: “We welcome the Inquiry and the opportunity to submit expert evidence to set out exactly why Coul Links is the wrong place for these damaging proposals. Given the wildlife importance of the site these plans should never have been allowed to progress this far; we urge Scottish Ministers to ensure that this internationally important place for nature is saved from this inappropriate development and remains a special place for wildlife.”
Alistair Whyte, Head of Plantlife Scotland said: “We are pleased that the Scottish Government decided to call in this controversial application. This inquiry will hear the evidence as to why Coul Links, with its national and international protected status, should remain safeguarded for wildlife. To build a golf course on such an important protected site would damage Scotland’s reputation the world over. Following the inquiry, all eyes will be on the Scottish Government as we wait for them to do the right thing.”
Stuart Brooks, Head of Conservation and Policy at the National Trust for Scotland said: “Scotland is blessed with some of the world’s most outstanding landscapes and wild places. We hope that evidence at the inquiry will convince Ministers that these are irreplaceable and worth far more to the nation as a whole than converting them to a golf course.”
Craig Macadam, Conservation Director at Buglife said: “Buglife Scotland has consistently highlighted concerns over these proposals for Coul Links. We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to the inquiry to show the importance of Coul Links for invertebrates, and why the wildlife and habitats here should be out of bounds to development proposals.”
Paul Kirkland, Director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland said: “Local Butterfly Conservation members are appalled by this proposal, which could ruin a highly protected dune system that supports a wide range of rare butterflies and moths, including one of the largest colonies of Northern Brown Argus butterfly in the UK. They (and the other 35,000 members of the charity) spend their time and money trying to conserve threatened species and now very much hope that Scottish Ministers will show that they too care about protected species and do not allow one of Scotland’s best sites to be destroyed – for no better reason than yet another golf course!”
Jonny Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “As a former warden at Coul Links I have first-hand experience of living and working at Coul Links. It’s a place that has both outstanding ecological value and a special wildness. It would be a national tragedy if it is lost to development.
“Ultimately the power to save Coul Links lies with Scottish Ministers. The international significance of the area makes this a critical test of this government’s resolve to stand by its commitments to protect the natural environment. If they decide not to protect the site, they will be breaking those promises.”