American billionaire investor Mike Keiser, whose golf resorts are ranked among the best in the world, has submitted plans to Highland Council for an 18-hole course on dunes at Coul Links in Embo, Sutherland, not far from the renowned Royal Dornoch.
An economic report prepared for the developer has estimated the Coul Links project would create around 250 new jobs and generate more than £60 million for the local economy over ten years.
But the Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, Buglife Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society claim the development, which includes a clubhouse and pro shop, would be a “disaster” for Scotland, destroying irreplaceable natural heritage and important habitats for rare wildlife.
The say rare plants, birds, insects and other animals would be under threat.
“It is essential for nature that Coul Links remains undisturbed,” said Davie Black, from the charity Plantlife.
“The proposed destruction of Coul Links, one of Scotland’s last remaining coastal dune systems, would be a disaster and must be wholeheartedly opposed by all those who care about nature and heritage.
“Coastal dune systems are threatened ecosystems across the UK, and no more must be bulldozed to make way for sterilised fairways. Already too many irreplaceable Scottish habitats have been carved up to make way for golf courses.”
Coul Links hosts a dune ecosystem of global significance and is protected by multiple conservation designations.
It is home to a wide range of plants and creatures, many of which are unique to the area or scarce across Scotland and the UK.
These include sea centaury, purple milk-vetch, moonwort and frog orchid, as well as the curlew, whinchat and Fonseca’s seed fly.
Jonathan Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and a former local resident, added: “Coul Links is a truly exceptional stretch of wild, unspoilt coast, valued for its natural beauty by locals and visitors alike.
“It seems extraordinary that this internationally important dune system is under threat from yet another golf course proposal, and it’s vital we protect it for future generations to enjoy.
“Almost a decade after the approval of the environmentally damaging Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, it is unthinkable that we could lose yet another irreplaceable duneland to a development which is clearly not needed.”
A spokesman for the developers said they have employed a broad range of ecological and environmental experts to come up with a golf course layout that would have minimal impact on existing species, habitats and landscape features.
He added: “The project will also protect the site from continued degradation through best practice management and commitments to large-scale habitat management programmes.
“We fully appreciate the special nature of the site and are confident that the proposals, and the Environmental Impact Assessment undertaken as a requirement of planning, demonstrate that the protection and enhancement of the area has remained a top priority throughout.”
The developers have enlisted the consultancy firm STRI, which specialises in integrating golf into the natural environment, to help manage the project.