The sand dunes at Donald Trump's controversial golf resort in Aberdeenshire are set to lose their protected environment status.
Government watchdog Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has recommended that Menie links be removed from an existing site of special scientific interest (SSSI), the BBC reports.
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Scottish Natural Heritage, which monitors the country’s sensitive and scientifically important sites, found that construction of Trump International Golf Links Scotland “led to the direct loss” of up to 68 hectares (168 acres) of the 205-hectare Foveran Links site.
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The damaged and "destroyed" drifts, one of the best examples of moving sand dunes in Britain, developed over 4,000 years, according to the agency.
SNH said it was "unusual" to remove an SSSI from the list but there was no longer a reason to protect the dunes.
A three-month formal consultation is set to get under way today on the future of the SSSI.
Sally Thomas, SNH’s Director of People & Nature, said: “The denotification of SSIs is unusual, however in this case we have found there is no longer a reason to protect the dunes at Menie as they do not include enough of the special, natural features for which they were designated.
“We work with developers across Scotland to ensure habitats and wildlife are protected when development work is undertaken.
“Most of the time, development can take place without damaging important natural features, but this was not the case in this instance.”
Previously, SNH warned a planning inquiry that the development would seriously damage the SSSI but permission was granted on the basis that the potential economic benefit would outweigh environmental harm.
Scottish Green party co-convener Patrick Harvie, who campaigned against the development, tweeted: "This was once a site enjoying the highest level of 'protection' Scotland offers to our natural environment. That protection turned out to be worth nothing and Trump was allowed to destroy the site for profit.
"Not too late to stop the same vandalism elsewhere, like #CoulLinks"
In response to the news, the Trump Organisation blasted the announcement, calling it "a stitch-up."
Trump International Golf Links Scotland's executive vice-president, Sarah Malone, told the national broadcaster: "This is an utter disgrace and shows SNH has hit an all-time low. To make an announcement to the media before informing us, the actual landowner, shows how politically-motivated this decision is. What other SSSI landowner is singled out in this way.
"It's a stitch-up.
"Before Donald Trump invested in the site, SNH had little interest in the SSSI at Foveran Links and did even less about it, and has barely been on property since. Trump International funds a team of leading geomorphological consultants, ecologists, and environmental experts and has spent millions on the care, protection and maintenance of the small area of SSSI in Scotland that it owns and yet SNH has offered no support, guidance or help.
"All this government agency wants to do is score political points and undermine that investment, custodianship and environmental management. No other SSSI site in the country has been afforded the amount of funding or expertise that Menie has and continues to receive."