Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Coul Links: Group behind golf course plans issues challenge to environmental critics

Coul Links. Picture by Alasdair Dickson. Sutherland. Supplied by Communities for Coul
Coul Links. Picture by Alasdair Dickson. Sutherland. Supplied by Communities for Coul

Conservation bodies have been challenged on how they would protect the natural habitat they say is threatened by a planned Coul Links golf development.

Communities for Coul (C4C), which is behind revived plans for the golf course, says current management of the Sutherland site poses the greatest risk to the coastal environment.

It argues that its plans would see the area restored and protected.

What are the conservation bodies’ concerns?

Last week an alliance of seven environmental organisations raised concerns over the new plans for a world-class course.

The Conservation Coalition’s fears remain that a development of the type and scale planned would impact on national and international protected areas.

It encouraged “anyone concerned about saving nature” to contact their local MSP.

A bid by a previous group to develop a golf course on at Coul Links was rejected by Scottish Ministers in 2020 after a public inquiry.

Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, Marine Conservation Society, the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) were among the objectors.

C4C lodged a pre-Planning Application Notice (PAN) for its renewed plans with Highland Council in June.

A view from the 18th hole on the planned golf course at Coul Links.

A public exhibition will be held in Embo Community Centre on July 27 and an online presentation will also be held in August.

C4C then hopes to lodge a full planning application by the early autumn.

The group says it has responded to concerns raised previously in developing the new plans.

This includes a comprehensive plan to restore and protect the Coul Links Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the shores of the Dornoch Firth.

This, it argues, will perpetually protect the coastal environment and help transform the area economically and create jobs.

Natural features ‘will be largely destroyed’

The Conservation Coalition argues the new plans don’t appear to address the environmental concerns that were part of the previous refusal.

It says concern remains that the development would result in “irreparable harm to the complex dune habitat which is home to a wide range of wildlife”.

However, C4C has hit back, saying environmental experts have predicted natural features at Coul Links, cited in the wider Loch Fleet area’s designation as a SSSI, will be largely destroyed within the coming decade under existing management arrangements.

It says one expert botanist said the vegetation of the dune slacks is “now mostly indistinct from roadside ditches” and the dune heath is “turning into nondescript scrub”.

The scientist warned that “soon there will be nothing much left worth preserving”.

C4C says a changing climate and increasing nitrogen deposition have promoted the spread of invasive species and other changes that reduce the diversity and distinctiveness of the links.

The 3rd tee of the planned course.

This means it is no longer sufficient just to protect the links, the area must first be restored, it says, and “that costs real money”.

The group claims the golf course, on 1% of the SSSI, would provide the funding and manpower for the full remediation and sustainable protection of the entire Coul Links section of the protected site.

The courses owners say they are committed to working closely with NatureScot to achieve that goal.

C4C director Gordon Sutherland said:  “The knee-jerk reaction of these powerful and influential charities is disappointing and it is noticeable that they offer no alternative solutions for the long-term protection and stewardship of this beautiful area.

“We would be very interested to hear what they have to say on that important issue, as I am sure many of their supporters and others would.”

Two sides could work together ‘in an ideal world’

He said the organisations have been “very selective” and “far from accurate” in what they have told supporters.

Mr Sutherland said in an ideal world C4C would work with the conservation bodies for the long-term benefit of the Coul Links area “rather than just being the target of their latest well-resourced, but one-sided campaigns”.

“At the very least we would hope their supporters take some time to look beyond what they are being told.”

A community ballot held by C4C last year showed 69.2% of people in favour of the course in a 44.4% turn-out.

Kenna Chisholm, for the coalition, said it is hoped the two sides can have a “meaningful discussion” about the plans.

“While there aren’t detailed plans available yet, from the information in the PAN it seems the area of proposed development is the same and as such we are deeply concerned.

Plans for a course at Coul Links were turned down in 2020.

“We are currently in both a nature and climate emergency and it should be clear that a damaging development on a site protected for nature, such as Coul Links, isn’t acceptable.”

She said SWT managed the site under an agreement with the landowner for 25 years and NatureScot now has a similar arrangement.

“This means that developing the site for a golf course is not needed to deliver improvements and is much more likely to cause irreparable harm to the dune system.

“We look forward to discussing our concerns with C4C directly.”

A NatureScot spokeswoman said it has some concerns about the golf course being located within Loch Fleet SSSI.

It has met with C4C to discuss reducing potential impacts, including advice on surveys and assessments needed to support a new application.

“We have also entered into a management agreement with the owner of Coul Links and are working closely to control areas of invasive scrub and weeds.”

Are you interested in more exclusive and breaking Highland and Islands news from the P&J? If so, why not join our dedicated Facebook page HERE