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Second witness on the stand as Coul Links inquiry enters second day

Paul Rooney of Liverpool Hope University, was called as an expert witness for SNH yesterday. Picture by Sandy McCook
Paul Rooney of Liverpool Hope University, was called as an expert witness for SNH yesterday. Picture by Sandy McCook

A Scottish Natural Heritage expert has claimed a proposed golf course in Sutherland would “benefit from more serious consideration” regarding dune heath habitat.

Experts and representatives gathered for a second day at the Carnegie Hall in Clashmore, near Dornoch, as the Scottish Government holds a public inquiry into the proposed Coul Links development.

Paul Rooney, from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), took to the stand in his role as an expert in coastal dune conservation management.

The senior lecturer at Liverpool Hope University said “the proposal would benefit from more serious consideration to a course layout which avoided dune heath” by suggesting mitigation methods to the design be implemented.

Mr Rooney gave evidence after the morning session was devoted to the cross-examination of fellow expert witness Professor Stewart Angus.


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Both experts were questioned by Ailsa Wilson QC, representative of developer Todd Warnock, as well as SNH representative Marcus McKay QC.

Ms Wilson questioned various aspects of Professor Angus’ report, honing in on evidence provided by SNH’s coastal ecology specialist in relation to claims a borehole water sample for irrigation contained a nitrate content of between 25 to 27 milligrams per litre, a figure twice the average recorded for dune slacks across the UK.

The data used to determine the nitrate content level by Professor Angus was generated through information produced by the applicant.

Ms Wilson said: “What you have done is put forward a position from SNH that suggests there has been an assessment because you say the risk is unacceptably high?

“If you don’t have the information other than this one borehole sample, that is only part of the information that is in fact available to the inquiry, and to you, then you are not in a position to assess whether it is an unacceptably high risk?”

Prof Angus replied: “I dispute that. I maintain my position that a borehole has reported this high nitrate level.”

Professor Angus continued to refute claims that there was inadequate information for him to reach the conclusion over the nitrate content, citing the 25 to 27 milligrams per litre figure as information which could not be disregarded.

The Scottish Government-led inquiry is the latest stage in a long-running saga to determine the fate of Coul Links near Embo, where Mr Warnock, backed by American billionaire developer Mike Keiser, has ambitions to deliver an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse.

A range of conservation bodies have clustered together under the Conservation Coalition banner, to spearhead opposition to the development.

The group argue that the rare coastal habitat, spanning around 34 acres on the Sutherland coast, would be greatly affected by the construction of a luxury golf course.

The inquiry resumes today. It is expected to last up to four weeks.

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