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To: Highland Council & Scottish Government

Save COUL LINKS protected nature from destructive Déjà Vu Groundhog Day Golf Course

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Campaign created by
Andrew Weston
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?

In July 2020, a screening request, as a first hurdle to environmental scoping & a full planning application, was submitted to Highland Council Planning for an 18-hole golf course, largely on Coul Links dunes within Loch Fleet & Dornoch Firth Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) & Ramsar wetland, protected for outstanding wildlife & geomorphological value.

A small 14-hole course is also proposed for adjacent non-SSSI higher land (raised beach) near Embo. That area was extensively burnt back in March 2020, damaging botanically important non-SSSI dune grassland which supports a nationally important colony of northern brown argus butterfly.

The larger golf course plan is the same ‘environmentally friendly’ Bill Coore design of the previous Coul Links Ltd (Mike Keiser & Todd Warnock) planning application that was approved by all but 1.5 councillors on the Highland Council Planning Committee. Following a conservation campaign, the application was called in for determination by The Scottish Government and the decision overturned after a Public Inquiry. The habitat loss & biopoverty, from golf course construction, management & weakening of natural sea defences, is described in the earlier petition, linked at the foot of this page.

The present applicant is a local councillor, acting ostensibly on behalf of a 'dormant' junior football club described as ‘defunct’ in The Northern Times. The application reveals Covid19 & Brexit uncertainties & Highland Clearances (of subsistence farmers for sheep, c.1750 to 1860) being levered for economic opportunism, & states, “Should this application be progressed, it will be submitted by a consortium of community groups local to the East Sutherland region”. Communities for Coul Ltd then registered as a company in January 2021, promoted as @Communities4Co1 on Twitter. It mainly represents golfing hobby & tourism interests between Tain & Brora but not whole populace. Claims about biodiversity gains from control of invasive species being dependent on golf (ignoring uncooperative landowner's neglect) & 1% golf-impact on SSSI, which is predominantly estuary, were refuted at Inquiry but are being repeated.

The fear is that the [smoke]screening request is a Trojan stalking horse for the previous Coul Links Ltd golfing consortium, which included intended shareholder The Embo Trust. At hypocritical odds with golf ambitions were ET’s Article of Association 4.5: "To advance environmental protection or improvement including preservation & conservation of the natural environment, the promotion of sustainable development, the maintenance, improvement or provision of environmental amenities for the community”. The councillor sits on several local committees & was chairman of ET until he left in January 2020. His ‘Armchair Environmentalists’ article in The Crofter, November 2017 invited comments to Highland Council from those that agreed with him. He expressed ignorance of habitat loss in The Press & Journal as “Cars & cats kill more birds than golfers”; & he edited & circulated others' misleading press letters to the planning committee, after removing a winter duck fecundity gaffe.

In September 2020, The Chartered Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management received a complaint from a persistent social media supporter of golf development at Coul Links. It alleged over 100 instances of professional misconduct by Dr Tom Dargie, a leading UK dune ecologist, chair of local opposition group Not Coul & a major expert witness at the Inquiry, including the accusation of misleading the Inquiry. After lengthy scrutiny of evidence the complaint was dismissed by CIEEM & again after complainant's appeal, completely exonerating Tom in January 2021.

The Scottish Government decision about the previous application followed recommendation to refuse by Highland Council’s Planning Officer; 1864 planning objections, including one from government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot); a protracted campaign (since October 2015) by many leading conservation charities (led by RSPB), Ramblers and Not Coul; an earlier Wembley Stadium capacity 38Degrees petition; & 4 weeks of Public Inquiry, officiated by The Planning & Environmental Appeals Division of The Scottish Government, with production of a detailed DPEA Report recommending refusal.

Scotland’s Planning Minister Kevin Stewart 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”.

If you agree with the Planning Minister PLEASE SIGN this UK petition & earlier:

Dornoch Firth & Loch Fleet Ramsar information:
"The sand dune, saltmarsh and estuary habitats are of international importance for their flora and geomorphology."

Planning application: 20/02820/SCRE:

Inquiry webcasts Feb & March 2019, & Decision:

Informative website by golfer:

Fonseca's seed fly:

'Community' greenwash:

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.

Embo, Dornoch IV25, UK

Maps © Stamen; Data © OSM and contributors, ODbL


Reasons for signing

  • This is very special nature conservation land and recognised internationally as such. It would be an outrage if any planning authority gave permission for yet another sterile golf course!! How many golf courses does Scotland need!
  • Natural habitats are more important than golf. There are enough golf courses already.
  • If we don't do our best to protect the stunning environment and animals gifted to ALL of us we will be left with nothing. Scotland has a large amount of Golf corses already, I feel this project is about developer ego and profit at the expense of the environment. This project must NOT be allowed to proceed.


2021-02-19 13:09:42 +0000

Northern Times, 19 February, 2021
'Dornoch hotelier plans four-star upgrade if renewed Coul Links golf course plan successful':

2021-02-18 11:50:22 +0000

Bunkered, 17 February, 2021
'Bandon Dunes: A little piece of Scotland in the USA':

"As for Keiser, he has gone on to cement his legacy as arguably the most influential and strangely underrated golf developer of all time. He has expanded his reach with Cabot Cliffs in Canada, Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania and, more recently, had hoped to expand his portfolio by creating a new course, Coul Links, within striking distance of the source of his original muse, Royal Dornoch. Alas, political red tape means that is now unlikely to happen."

However, his Bill Coore golf course design is in the current screening application.

2021-02-11 09:00:49 +0000

Bunkered, 9 February, 2021
'"Defeated" Scottish golf course plans to be resurrected':

2021-02-10 16:18:20 +0000

Northern Times, 10 February, 2021
'Lease agreement reached over Coul Links':

2021-02-06 00:08:05 +0000

Press & Journal, 5 February 2021
'Highland community to lease site earmarked for revived golf course plan':

2021-02-05 00:44:14 +0000

BBC News, Highlands & Islands, 5 February 2021
'Coul Links: New plans for golf course in Sutherland':

2021-01-29 13:09:15 +0000

Northern Times, 29 January 2021
'Investors prepared to back Coul Links Hotel':

Press & Journal, 28 January, 2021
'Plans to build eco hotel if Highland golf course development is revived':

2021-01-27 16:03:04 +0000

Press & Journal, 26 January 2021
'Controversial golf course plans could be back on as campaign group calls refusal "grave disservice" to area':

2021-01-22 09:40:10 +0000

Northern Times, 22 January 2021
'Community group formed to revive Coul Links golf plan':
GOLF DEVELOPMENT WEBSITE 'Communities for Coul' launched:
Twitter: @Communities4Co1

2021-01-10 19:09:02 +0000

20,000 signatures reached

2020-10-20 20:02:47 +0100

Northern Times and Ross-shire Journal, 20 & 21 October, 2020
'Two-year obstacle to new Coul Links plan':
"A NORTH planning officer has advised the group behind an attempt to resurrect a championship golf course at Coul Links, Embo, to be cautious about proceeding."

2020-10-17 14:36:45 +0100

Northern Times, 9 October, 2020
'The Way I See It by [Councillor] Jim McGillivray'
supporting his planning application for Coul Links golf course,
showing misconceptions about who is responsible for SSSI management,
influencing local public opinion and perhaps displaying his conflicts of interests:

2020-10-02 19:52:38 +0100

Northern Times, 2 October, 2020
'Golf course at Coul Links in the frame again'
"A Highland Council spokeswoman said a consultation process would have to take place before a planning application for such a major development could be submitted."

2020-09-30 18:26:23 +0100

10,000 signatures reached

2020-09-29 14:41:19 +0100

5,000 signatures reached

2020-09-29 11:57:53 +0100

1,000 signatures reached

2020-09-29 11:51:42 +0100

500 signatures reached

2020-09-28 20:13:55 +0100

100 signatures reached

2020-09-28 19:12:07 +0100

50 signatures reached

2020-09-28 18:11:05 +0100

25 signatures reached

2020-09-28 17:44:55 +0100

10 signatures reached

2020-09-28 17:02:03 +0100

The Scotsman, 14 September, 2020
'Campaigners pledge to fight new plan for golf course at wildlife site':

2020-09-28 16:54:26 +0100

Holyrood magazine, 21 February, 2020
'Planning permission refused for controversial Coul Links golf course':,planning-permission-refused-for-controversial-coul-links-golf-course_15146.htm#.XlHJa0vWvIs.twitter

Scottish Government decision of February 2020 about previous planning application:

2020-09-28 16:51:41 +0100

PREVIOUS PETITION history & updates:
'Save Coul Links protected nature (Loch Fleet Ramsar SSSI & SPA) from golf development vandalism'
Please sign current Déjà Vu Groundhog Day petition in preference to the old vandalism one but NO HARM IN SIGNING BOTH, to get old petition over 100,000 threshold, as the planning applications (at time of writing) are practically the same!