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Conservationists unite to campaign against golf course plans

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Proposals for Coul Links course would destroy rare coastal habitats, charities say

Plans to build a golf course on a protected estuary in the Scottish Highlands have been condemned by conservation charities.

RSPB Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, BugLife and Plantlife Scotland have united to campaign against the proposal to build a golf course at Coul Links in East Sutherland.

The planned development would take in parts of the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest, as well as the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area.

Campaigners say the area is one of Scotland’s last remaining undeveloped coastal dune habitats and home to a host of rare wildlife.

They have now written to US-based developer Mike Keiser asking him to call off the plans.

It’s difficult to explain to those that haven’t visited the links what an exceptional stretch of unspoiled coastline this is

Jonathan Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, is a former resident of the area.

He said: "It’s difficult to explain to those that haven’t visited the links what an exceptional stretch of unspoiled coastline this is.

“I’ve personally recorded Scottish wildcat, breeding little terns and rare plants such as coralroot orchid on the site. It would be a tragedy if the area was developed.”

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland said the site is noted as a habitat for protected birds including terns, geese and waders.

“It fully deserves its protected status and I am very surprised that it should be under this kind of threat,” he added.

Davie Black of Plantlife Scotland highlighted the botanical interest of Coul Links.

He said: “Coul Links is a remarkable place for plants. One of the reasons for this is that the Links form a complete and undisturbed system of habitats running from the foredune to the slacks.

“Each habitat possesses its own specialised plant and insect communities. It is unusual to find such features surviving on the coast because the pressure for development over the years has caused massive losses. It would be a tragedy if, in 2016, we were to allow one of the few remaining sites of this type to be destroyed.”

Buglife‘s conservation director Craig Macadam said that surveys of Coul Links had revealed populations of some very rare invertebrates found practically nowhere else in Britain.

He added: “Only special places provide a home for such scarce species. We have a duty to protect Coul Links and all its creatures, both great and small.”

Campaigners say they expect Scottish Natural Heritage to share its concerns about the proposal, and that it would make a full submission detailing its objections if the proposal goes forward into the planning process.

A spokesman for the developers said: “The applicant is undertaking an environmental assessment of the site and its surroundings with the objective of achieving a development proposal that responds to the environment.”