Sutherland golf course proposals more environmentally damaging than Trump’s Aberdeenshire course warn conservationists

Tuesday 7th November 2017

Unique Coul Links would be destroyed

An alliance of conservation organisations has submitted a damning objection to proposals to build a golf course on one of the last undeveloped coastal duneland habitats left in Scotland. With less than a month until the planning consultation deadline, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, Plantlife, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust are urging members of the public to oppose the destruction of Coul Links by submitting their own objections.

Coul Links on the Sutherland coast is home to many species of wildlife, with migrant geese, waders and ducks currently arriving to use the seasonal winter lochs that begin to form at this time of year. Plants found at Coul Links include coral root orchid, purple milk vetch and a rare colony of coastal juniper trees. It is also home to the Fonseca’s seed fly which is only found at a few sites in east Sutherland and nowhere else in the world.

The area’s importance for nature is reflected by national and international protection designations. Despite this, Coul Links has come under threat from plans for a luxury golf course spearheaded by American multi-millionaires Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock.

The conservation organisations warn against repeating the mistakes made in approving the Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire almost ten years ago which has destroyed nationally protected dune habitats and seriously damaged Scotland’s international reputation for environmental stewardship. The golf course at Menie was given the go ahead despite huge opposition from the public and conservation organisations.

The proposals for Coul Links have the potential to be even more damaging as they would destroy a significant part of a globally important wildlife site that is internationally protected. This protection is partly based on the unique land form of the site which has developed over thousands of years and once destroyed would be effectively irreplaceable.

While the direct loss of the habitat would be devastating it would also create a damaging ripple effect across the wider protected site, disrupting the natural dune system processes. Interlinked habitats would be broken up, old juniper trees uprooted, and water could be polluted from intensive pesticide and fertiliser use by the golf course. An increase in people at the site would disturb not only the wildlife still there such as curlews and lapwings but also the remaining fragile dune habitat.

In their submission to Highland Council the conservation organisations have also raised concerns about serious flaws in the environmental assessment commissioned by the developers. The predicted impact of the development detailed could have been seriously underestimated and, in practice, be even more devastating than the proposals suggest.

With less than a month to go until comments on the application close on 1st December the alliance is appealing to the public to support its objections by submitting their own responses and for local residents in the Highland Council area to contact their local councillors as well to raise their concerns.

Aedán Smith, Head of Planning and Development at RSPB Scotland, said: ““Almost a decade since Donald Trump’s controversial Aberdeenshire golf course was approved, destroying part of a nationally important wildlife site and severely denting Scotland’s environmental reputation, it’s incredible that an even more damaging proposal could come forward. 

“There are international obligations to ensure the protection of Coul Links due to its global importance for wildlife. The eyes of the world will therefore once again be on Scotland, and on the Highland Council when they make their planning decision, to see whether we now place more value on our special places.”

Craig Macadam, Director of Buglife Scotland, said: “The dune systems at Coul Links have developed over thousands of year in to an internationally important site for wildlife. As a nation we have a duty to protect these dunes for future generations in the local community, Scotland and further afield. Highland Council must do everything in their power to protect this important natural heritage asset from these damaging development plans.”

Comments can be submitted via the Highland Council website here, or by emailing [email protected]  quoting application reference 17/04601/FUL in the subject line. Further details of how to support the campaign to save Coul Links can be found on RSPB Scotland’s website here