Scottish Government urged to step in to save Coul Links

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 21 June 2018

Plans have been approved for a golf course at Coul Links near Embo in East Sutherland - one of the country’s most important dune habitats.

Coul Links Aerial
© Craig Allardyce

The Coul Links dunes should be celebrated for the precious wild space they currently are, a status they are now set to lose

Calum Duncan,
MCS Head of Conservation, Scotland

The area’s fate now lies with Scottish Ministers after the local planning committee of the Highland Council voted to approve the planned golf course at the internationally protected site, against advice of Highland Council officials and a statutory objection from Scottish Natural Heritage

A coalition of environmental groups campaigning to save Coul Links - which includes MCS, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and Buglife - is strongly critical of the failure of the planning committee to give due consideration to the need to refuse the application because of its environmental impact.

The coalition is now calling on Scottish Ministers to save the Coul Links from being permanently damaged by the construction of the golf course.

Calum Duncan, Head of Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society said he’s bitterly disappointed with this ‘anachronistic’ decision: “The Coul Links dunes should be celebrated for the precious wild space they currently are, a status they are now set to lose, that can be enjoyed responsibly by everyone, including most importantly for local benefit.

“A holistic approach to encourage visitors - especially with the profile of the North Coast 500 driving route around the far north coast - should celebrate these as amongst the last and best examples of this precious dune habitat, and the boost to health and wellbeing a visit there could provide. Instead unique wildlife will be threatened, the wildness of the dunes trashed and the opportunity for inclusive recreational access diminished.”

A huge chunk of the world population of Fonseca’s seed fly can be found at Coul and it’s a safe haven for many of Scotland’s threatened wild plants such as the lesser butterfly orchid, coral root orchid, moonwort and star of Bethlehem.

Part of the proposed golf course lies within the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area. The dunes at Coul Links are particularly unusual because they form a complete undisturbed system from foredune to slacks - the low lying areas within the dune system.

Craig Macadam, Conservation Director of Buglife said that once these habitats and the species that live there are lost, there is no second chance: “Scottish Ministers must call in this application to ensure that the wildlife of these dunes is saved for future generations.”

Jonny Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust said he hopes that Scottish Ministers will ‘do the right thing’ and step in to avoid irreparable damage to Scotland’s ‘reputation for environmental leadership internationally’.

The plans for the course had been recommended for refusal by officials as they are contrary to Highland Council’s development plan due to the “significant and permanent loss of sand dune habitat”. They also highlighted that ‘…Coul Links support some of the best quality SSSI dune slack habitats in Scotland’.

The proposal had received unprecedented levels of opposition with over 1,800 objections lodged with Highland Council, and one petition gaining over 89,000 signatures. Objectors included many local people and local groups such as the Tain and District Field Club and local campaign group Not Coul, as well as Scotland’s national statutory nature conservation advisors Scottish Natural Heritage, the international IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas and numerous national environmental groups.

Due to the severe damage that would be caused to internationally important wildlife habitats, the decision cannot be issued until Scottish Ministers have had an opportunity to consider the proposals. It’s hoped they will step in and save the site by calling in the application.

Actions you can take

  1. Find out more about Scottish Wildlife
  2. Browse Scotland's Marine Atlas

Did you know?…

To the shelf limits, Scotland has 61% of UK waters, of which 23% are now in existing or new ‘marine protected areas’

Scotland has 10% of Europe’s coastline

MCS established its Scotland office and programme in 2000 in Edinburgh