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To: Highland Council & Scottish Government

Save COUL LINKS protected nature from destructive Déjà Vu Groundhog 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 wetland. Councillors approved of this Groundhog application by a whisker on 6 Dec 2023, but the Scottish Government called it in on 8 Feb 2024 for review.

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 Updates ↓ of 16 June 2021 & 27 Aug 2023) but representing golf & tourism interests in coastal Sutherland, appointing the same developer, applicant of the 1st failed planning application, & intending to dissolve! The 2023 golf course plan is similar to the ‘environmentally friendly’ design of the previous Coul Links Ltd planning saga, first mooted in Oct 2015, approved almost unanimously by councillors, but refused in 2020 after Scottish Government intervention.

The decision followed crucial objection by government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (now NatureScot); recommended refusal by Highland Council’s Planning Officer; 1864 planning objections, 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 (please sign); & 4 weeks of Public Local Inquiry, whose Report recommended refusal.

Scottish Ministers summarised in Feb 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 developer to re-emerge is Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes Oregon, Cabot Nova Scotia (NS) & Cabot Highlands UK. He was a funder of Heartland climate change denial Institute & doesn’t have an impeccable conservation record in Oregon: Cabot NS failed to obtain a lease to convert wild protected public dunes to a golf course:

The only substantial improvement to the previous course design is the abandonment of the major juniper translocation experiment within the SSSI.

Assertions common to both planning applications & their inadequate Environmental Impact Assessments were refuted by Inquiry. One is that golf will only impact 1% of the SSSI, which is predominantly tidal estuary & contains substantial areas of beach, saltmarsh & native pinewood. This ignores the effects of the retreating coastline, expanding wetlands, 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 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 & trampling-tolerant (from 25,000 rounds per annum) grasses & mosses, with no opportunity for surviving herbs to flower. Dune heath, chiefly of heathers, mosses & lichens, with sparser & 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.

C4C claims 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 & 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:

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 the anticipated market for Coul Links golf would be from USA, jetting to Scotland to contribute to climate warming emissions & coastal erosion.

Planning: ref. 23/00580/FUL
Not Coul:
Coastal Erosion Crisis:
Coul photos:

How it will be delivered

Both petitions have been submitted to Highland Council ePlanning as a Public Comment objection. Following approval of the planning application by councillors on 6 December 2023, the Scottish Government called-in the planning application on 8 February 2024 for review and determination. The government DPEA reporters will scrutinise objections as part of the Inquiry process (see Updates ↓).

Embo, Dornoch IV25, UK

Maps © Stamen; Data © OSM and contributors, ODbL



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