A coalition of environmental groups has issued a new appeal to the public to help stop a planned golf course at Coul Links.
Communities for Coul (C4C), the group that revived the course proposal, submitted a revised plan in February.
It says the development would bring in over £50 million of private investment and create 175-250 jobs.
But the coalition of seven organisations says it remains concerned about the damage a golf course would do to rare coastal dunes.
Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, Marine Conservation Society, the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust argue the new proposals differ very little in scale from a previous application.
Rejected – then revived
A bid by a previous group to develop a golf course at Coul Links was rejected by Scottish Ministers in 2020 after a public inquiry.
C4C revived the project in 2021. It says its new plans have been guided by previous environmental concerns and offer the best chance to retain the area’s Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status.
Comments on the application can be submitted to Highland Council by April 9.
The coalition says not all the factors that led to the 2020 refusal have been addressed.
It says the proposed course location includes parts of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area and Ramsar site and the Loch Fleet SSSI.
This would still result in “irreparable harm” to the complex dune habitat which is home to a wide range of wildlife, it claims.
Craig Macadam, conservation director at Buglife said: “The coalition is very worried by these proposals which differ very little from the previous application deemed too damaging to nature to go ahead.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that our concerns and the reasons for the refusal of the previous application have not been addressed, and that once again we are having to fight to save this protected place.”
He said members of the coalition will object to the plans and asks members of the public to do the same.
“This incredible place for nature is at serious risk of being destroyed and lost forever – please help us save Coul Links.”
‘Rare dune ecocystem’
The coalition says the site is made up of a rare dune ecosystem of national and international importance and home to a wide range of plants, birds, insects and other wildlife.
Many of the species are either unique to the area, rare, or in severe decline elsewhere in the UK.
These include Fonseca’s seed fly, the Waxcap fungi, a nationally rare bryophyte, a nationally rare lichen, and several nationally rare species of invertebrate.
Alistair Whyte, head of Plantlife Scotland said: “We again stand shoulder to shoulder with our conservation partners in opposing the development of Coul Links.
“Many others also oppose these inappropriate plans. The site, one of Scotland’s last remaining undisturbed wild dune systems, offers a safe haven to special wild plants including Baltic Rush, Curved Sedge and internationally important lichen populations.”
Jo Pike, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said he is “greatly saddened” to see the new application.
“This nationally and internationally important site is unsuitable for development due to its unique sand dune habitat and its value for breeding and wintering birds, endemic invertebrates, and rare lichens.
“Habitat loss is one of the main drivers of biodiversity decline across Scotland.
“This triple designated site must be protected, respected, and celebrated for its natural riches.”
C4C says its environmental measures will include closing the course to players between November and the end of March to protect the habitats of over-wintering birds.
Green-keeping staff will be on full time contracts “because there will always be work to restore and protect the SSSI”.
Hotel plan depends on golf course going ahead
Last year C4C challenged the coalition on how they would protect the natural habitat it says is threatened by the golf course plan.
It said environmental experts predicted natural features at Coul Links, cited in the wider Loch Fleet area’s designation as an SSSI, will be largely destroyed within the coming decade under existing management arrangements.
In February C4C welcomed Highland Council approval of the first phase of a £20 million eco hotel close to the site of the proposed championship course.
The venture is forecast to create more than 40 jobs, but is dependent on the golf course going ahead.
C4C says the hotel and course can create new sustainable opportunities for people in an area where the long-term decrease in working-age population is a growing problem.
Meanwhile, opponents of the course have also claimed a promotional video used by C4C featured agency stock clips rather than footage of local people.
Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy called the video “embarrassing” and said it gives viewers the impression they are watching supporters of the course plan.
A spokesman for Coul Links said as a small community group it could not afford to hire a crew, cameras and a drone to film on location.
He said 70% of local people support the creation of the golf course.
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.