The Coul Links proposed golf development is expected to be on the agenda of a Highland Council North Planning Applications Committee's meeting in early December 2023:
To: Highland Council & Scottish Government
Save COUL LINKS protected nature from destructive 'Déjà Vu Groundhog Day' golf course
Prevent destruction of beautiful, protected & internationally important dune habitats from golf course development.
Why is this important?
For the 2nd time in 6 years a planning application for an 18-hole international golf course threatens Coul Links, within Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Loch Fleet & Dornoch Firth Special Protection Area (SPA) & Ramsar international wetland.
The Screening Request was from a councillor on behalf of a defunct football club, but the Scoping & Full application were adopted by an astroturfing & greenwashing stalking horse, Communities for Coul (C4C), purporting to represent the local populace (see Update 16 June, 2021), appointing the previous rejected developer/applicant team & intending to dissolve!
C4C represents golf & tourism interests in coastal Sutherland. The 2023 golf course plan is similar to the ‘environmentally friendly’ design of the previous Coul Links Ltd planning saga, first mooted in October 2015. 90% of the current proposed course area overlaps the earlier, refused in 2020 after Scottish Government intervention.
The government decision followed recommended refusal by Highland Council’s Planning Officer; 1864 planning objections, objection by government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot); a campaign by Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife, RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Ramblers, Scotways & Not Coul (all objecting again); a Wembley Stadium capacity 38Degrees petition; & 4 weeks of Public Local Inquiry, whose Report recommended refusal.
Scottish Ministers summarised in February 2020:
“Reporters have concluded that the harmful impacts of this development to protected habitats & species would outweigh the potential socio-economic benefits. This proposal does not comply with the relevant provisions of the Highland Wide Local Development Plan & runs contrary to Scottish planning policy’s emphasis on protecting natural heritage sites & world class environmental assets. The Scottish Government has considered the reporter’s findings carefully & agree with the recommendation that planning permission should be refused”.
The earlier destruction is described in the vandalism petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/conserve-coul-links-for-nature-not-golf-1 which you are also invited to sign, since the 'Groundhog' application is so similar.
The developer to re-emerge since planning refusal is Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Cabot projects in Nova Scotia & now Cabot Highland in UK. He is a past funder of Heartland climate change denial Institute https://littlesis.org/person/42895-Michael_Keiser & doesn’t have an impeccable conservation record in Oregon: https://oregoncoastalliance.org/bandon-dunesbiota-bulldoze-roads-and-dig-bore-holes-in-bandon-state-natural-area/. In Nova Scotia, Cabot seeks permission to convert wild protected public dunes to a golf course: https://ecologyaction.ca/resources-media/press-releases/opinion-raymond-plourde-pop-cabots-trial-balloon-now.
One significant improvement to the previous course design is that most of the nationally important dune Juniper will not be destroyed: https://sac.jncc.gov.uk/habitat/H2250/. The application claims that wetlands are avoided but dune slack habitats remain on 13 of the 18 holes & two greens, because the driest forms of this habitat are inaccurately mapped.
Several assertions common to both planning applications & their inadequate Environmental Impact Assessments were refuted by Inquiry. One is that the golf course will only impact 1% of the SSSI, which is predominantly tidal estuary & also contains substantial areas of beach, saltmarsh & native pinewood. It ignores the effects of golf management & disturbance beyond constructed tees & greens of biopoverty lawns, & intensively mown fairways, & the effects of habitat fragmentation on ecological integrity.
Tees & greens would be excavated, recontoured, turfed with introduced amenity grassland, fertilised & irrigated. Fairways, ostensibly to preserve biodiversity & naturalness, would be mown weekly in the growing season, compacting irregular topography & gradually reducing any sward to the most mower-tolerant & trampling-tolerant grasses & mosses, with no opportunity for surviving herbs to flower. Dune heath, chiefly of heathers, mosses & lichens, with negligible & tussocky grasses, would be obliterated by mowing, leaving habitat susceptible to more wind erosion than desirable. Mowing would nowhere produce a world-class playing surface & eroded areas would likely be patched up with introduced grasses, & 'weeds' treated with herbicide.
The main contention is the claim that golf development is the only way to fund conserving Coul Links for nature, with golf management ending management neglect (by the landowner, a 2017 developer), initiating removal of ‘invasive’ species. This is untrue, as a land management agreement with NatureScot has commenced & generous funds are available for future work. Gorse, birches, Bracken, Meadowsweet & Burnet Rose are all perceived by the development team as undesirables to be severely controlled, despite their collectively supporting numerous insects & some nesting birds. While some control of first three species is desirable to preserve more valuable habitats, they are all natural & native components of dune vegetation. Bracken is commonly the target of prejudice but: https://butterfly-conservation.org/sites/default/files/habitat-bracken-for-butterflies.pdf.
Coul Links is one of the most biodiverse & intact dune habitat systems surviving in Scotland, where much has already been lost to golf. Naturalness, supported by size, is a chief criterion for SSSI evaluation & selection. Golf would destroy that integrity.
50% of anticipated market for Coul Links golf would be from USA, jetting to Scotland to contribute to climate warming emissions & coastal erosion.
How it will be delivered
By email to Highland Council Planning as an objection and then, if the planning application gains traction, by email to Scottish Government.