Golf course plans could see decline of second rare dune habitat, warn NGOs

Alarm has been sounded over renewed plans to develop a golf course within a protected dune habitat, with fears that the site could go the way of a similar habitat which in 2020 lost its designation following the construction of Donald Trump’s Aberdeenshire course.

In June, a proposal of application notice (PAN) was submitted to The Highland Council, by developer C4C, for permission to construct a 18-hole golf course at Coul Links, on the coast near Dornoch Firth, in northern Scotland. 

There are few details about the proposed course in the documents submitted to the council, but the average length of an 18-hole golf course is 45 hectares, which is roughly equivalent to 84 football pitches. 

It is not the first time the council had received such an application - two years ago, another golf course application on the site had its application quashed by the Scottish government on environmental grounds, because the proposed site lay within the boundary of Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area and Ramsar site, as well as Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). 

With the news that a new application has been launched, and the developer stating that it hopes that environmental concerns could be addressed as it works towards a full planning application, a coalition of green groups have come out raising alarm.

Bruce Wilson from the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “We are really concerned that the internationally protected Coul Links is once again under threat from a golf course. It’s incredibly disappointing to see that these new plans don’t appear to address the environmental concerns that were part of the previous refusal.”

He said that since the Scottish government refused the previous golf course application in 2020, part of another dune habitat at Menie, Aberdeenshire, where Donald Trump was permitted to build a golf course in 2012, had lost its protected designation after Nature Scot concluded that the SSSI’s special features had been "partially destroyed" with no prospect of recovery. 

“We are in a nature and climate emergency”, said Wilson. “Ensuring protected areas are respected is a critical part of tackling these crises. Developers shouldn’t be pursuing environmentally damaging proposals that put Scotland’s special places for wildlife at risk.”

The coalition of green groups originally contacted C4C to outline their concerns in spring 2021, when plans to build the course were publicly announced. 

Commenting to the BBC, Gordon Sutherland, a director of C4C, said: "Local people are most definitely in favour of this development - that gave us the mandate to make a second planning application.

"We're trying to address the environmental aspects, but also build on the social economic aspects.

"The support of the local communities, I think, is largely driven by the economic benefits that they see that this golf course would bring to their communities."