Conservation organisations have lodged a joint objection to a proposed luxury golf course development, warning it would damage an internationally important wildlife site.
The alliance of six groups, including RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust, warn the proposals for Coul Links in Sutherland could be “even more damaging” than Donald Trump’s controversial course at the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire.
Developers led by Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock want to build an 18-hole course at Coul Links, which is protected as part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Conservationists said the proposals would destroy a significant part of a globally important wildlife site that is internationally protected and would also create a damaging ripple effect across the wider protected site, disrupting the natural dune system processes.
Aedan Smith, head of planning and development at RSPB Scotland, said: “Almost a decade since Donald Trump’s controversial Aberdeenshire golf course was approved, destroying part of a nationally important wildlife site and severely denting Scotland’s environmental reputation, it’s incredible that an even more damaging proposal could come forward.
“There are international obligations to ensure the protection of Coul Links due to its global importance for wildlife. The eyes of the world will therefore once again be on Scotland, and on the Highland Council when they make their planning decision, to see whether we now place more value on our special places.”
The other groups in the alliance are Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society and Plantlife.
Plants found at Coul Links include coral root orchid, purple milk vetch and a rare colony of coastal juniper trees, while it is also home to the Fonseca’s seed fly which is only found at a few sites in east Sutherland and nowhere else in the world.
Conservationists said that under the proposals, interlinked habitats would be broken up and old juniper trees uprooted, while an increase in people at the site would disturb not only the wildlife still there such as curlews and lapwings but also the remaining fragile dune habitat.
In their submission to Highland Council the conservation organisations have also raised concerns about “serious flaws” in the environmental assessment commissioned by the developers.
They are urging members of the public to submit their own responses before the December 1 deadline.
Craig Macadam, Director of Buglife Scotland, said: “The dune systems at Coul Links have developed over thousands of years into an internationally important site for wildlife.
“As a nation, we have a duty to protect these dunes for future generations in the local community, Scotland and further afield.
“Highland Council must do everything in their power to protect this important natural heritage asset from these damaging development plans.”
A Highland Council spokesman said: “The planning application for the development of an 18-hole championships links golf course and practice area at Coul Links Skelbo Dornoch has yet to be decided.
“The planning application (reference number 17/04601/FUL) can be viewed on the eplanning site at http://wam.highland.gov.uk/wam/. Each application has to be considered on its merits and all views expressed will be taken into consideration in the determination of the application.”
Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie welcomed the opposition from the conservation groups.
He said: “Loch Fleet and Coul Links are hugely important areas for wildlife and this is reflected by the national and international designations that it holds. It is a Site of Special Scientific interest, a Special Protection Area and a Ramsar site.
“These designations are not handed out willy nilly and Highland Council and the Scottish Government must ensure that they are fully protected.
“It will be interesting to see any official analysis of the impact this destructive proposal would have for Scotland’s near £300 million wildlife tourism industry.
“It’s disappointing that some local people felt unable to speak out against this proposal. Frankly, Highlanders have heard false assurances of great job proposals from millionaires many times in the past.”