Some of the country's biggest conservation charities oppose the development
An application to build a luxury golf course on one of the last coastal dune habitats in Scotland has been dealt a huge blow with NatureScot objecting to the plans.
It claims the development will have damaging effects on the area with developer C4C wanting to turn the nationally and internationally protected Coul Links into a golf course.
NatureScot has warned that the proposal will cause the direct loss of significantly more protected dune habitat within the Site of Special Scientific Interest and there will be significant adverse effects on a habitat of national importance.
It said that C4C’s environmental impact assessment underplays the adverse effect of the development on sand dune habitats which are part of the Loch Fleet and Dornoch Firth SSSI and Ramsar site.
This dune habitat on the East Sutherland coast is one of the last of its kind in Scotland and was previously under threat from a very similar golf course application in 2017.
Highland Council approved the plan on 20 June 2018, however in August the Scottish Government decided to "call in" the decision for further scrutiny at a national level. On 26 February 2019 the government decided that the matter would be decided by a planning inquiry, and the government's Planning and Architecture Division formally refused permission for the development in February 2020.
The new plans have been strongly objected to by the seven members of the Conservation Coalition – Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife, RSPB Scotland, and Scottish Wildlife Trust – who also opposed the previous application due to Coul Link’s location within a globally important wildlife site which supports many rare plants and insects and is an important refuge for wintering birds.
Over 700 objections from both members of the public and organisations have been submitted to Highland Council.
Aedán Smith, head of policy and advocacy at RSPB Scotland said: “The objection from NatureScot makes it clear that this development should not go ahead. Coul Links is so important for nature that it has multiple protection designations and is a completely inappropriate place for a luxury golf course.
“The impacts of the golf course would be hugely damaging and fly in the face of attempts to tackle the nature and climate emergency. We call on Highland Council to refuse this application and save Coul Links from irreparable damage.”
Ruchir Shah, director of external affairs at the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “Given the application looks very similar to the previous application to develop the site it isn’t surprising that Nature Scot have once again objected to this proposal, it is welcomed though. Highland Council should listen to this valued opinion and refuse this application.”
Craig Macadam, conservation director at Buglife said: “NatureScot’s objection highlights the importance of Coul Links’ unique sand dune habitat and its value for breeding and wintering birds, endemic invertebrates, and rare lichens. Highland Council must take decisive action and kick out these plans or risk losing Coul Links and its special wildlife forever.”