Plans to create a new world-class Highland golf course could be scrapped to help preserve a rare species of fly.
The Fonseca seed fly is only found on the sand dunes at Coul near Embo, Dornoch, which US entrepreneurs want to turn into an 805-acre, 18-hole course.
The developers say the venture will bring new jobs and an influx of tourists to the stretch of coastline.
But conservationists are demanding a study of the Fonseca seed fly and if that shows their habitat could be threatened the plans could be scrapped.
An online petition to protect the fly has already attracted 500 signatures.
Craig Macadam, conservation director at Buglife, said the rare fly is restricted to a stretch of Sutherland coastline the size of around 100 football pitches.
“It’s an endemic species, extremely vulnerable to extinction,” he said.
“Recent survey work by Scottish Natural Heritage found that populations had dropped significantly since the 1970s.
“Its habitat should not be put under threat from yet another golf development.”
An SNH survey, completed in 2013, declares that the fly should be “one of Scotland’s biodiversity priorities”.
It adds that the fly is “particularly susceptible to extinction” and is subject to “random demographic fluctuations”.
The site, which borders the North Sea and Loch Fleet, is in a special protected area and has designated sites of scientific interest.
Petitions have been launched both for and against the proposal.
There was support for the project at two recent public consultations, with exhibitions of the proposals showcased in both Dornoch and nearby Embo.
But one Embo resident, Gillian Emerick, has registered her opposition and claims that many locals are unhappy with the idea.
The course proposal is being co-led by developer Mike Keiser for Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, a golfing venue in