Conservation partnership unites to protect precious dune habitat in Sutherland from development



Coul Links. Photo: Alison Searl/RSPB Scotland
Coul Links. Photo: Alison Searl/RSPB Scotland

I like the look of this partnership but I also know the site – and it’s lovely.  There’s a golf course just on the other side of Loch Fleet for heaven’s sake!

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, BugLife and Plantlife Scotland have come together to campaign against a proposal to build a golf course at Coul Links in East Sutherland. The four organisations are aghast at a proposal which would destroy one of Scotland’s last remaining undeveloped coastal dune habitats.

The partnership is highlighting its importance for wildlife and the fragility of its habitats, particularly its network of sand dunes and the sheltered areas between them that provide a home for a host of rare wildlife.

The partnership has written today (29 August) to the developers urging them to think again.

Jonathan Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust,  and a former resident of the area, said, “I lived at Coul Farm Cottage and the nearby village of Embo for four years in the 1990s and know Coul Links intimately. It’s difficult to explain to those that haven’t visited the links what an exceptional stretch of unspoiled coastline this is. I’ve personally recorded Scottish wildcat, breeding little terns and rare plants such as coralroot orchid on the site. It would be a tragedy if the area was developed.”

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland said, “A large part of the proposed golf course is within the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest, and the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area. The site is noted for important protected birds including terns, geese and waders. It fully deserves its protected status and I am very surprised that it should be under this kind of threat.”

Craig Macadam, conservation director of Buglife, said that surveys of Coul Links had revealed populations of some very rare invertebrates. “The presence of these nationally scarce insects shows what a special place Coul is. A good example is the Fonseca seed-fly. It is a very modest little creature but is found practically nowhere else in the British Isles. Only special places provide a home for such scarce species. We have a duty to protect Coul Links and all its creatures, both great and small.”

Davie Black of Plantlife Scotland highlighted the botanical interest of Coul Links.  “Coul Links is a remarkable place for plants. One of the reasons for this is that the Links form a complete and undisturbed system of habitats running from the foredune to the slacks. Each habitat  possesses its own specialised plant and insect communities. It is unusual to find such features surviving on the coast because the pressure for development over the years has caused massive losses. It would be a tragedy if, in 2016, we were to allow one of the few remaining sites of this type to be destroyed.”

The partnership stated that it fully expects the government agency Scottish Natural Heritage to share its concerns about the proposal, and that it would make a full submission detailing its objections if the proposal goes forward into the planning process.’


Wild flowers at Coul Links. photo: Mark Foxwell/Scottish Wildlife Trust
Wild flowers at Coul Links. Grass of Parnassus, I’m told!  Photo: Mark Foxwell/Scottish Wildlife Trust





24 Replies to “Conservation partnership unites to protect precious dune habitat in Sutherland from development”

  1. Grass of Parnassus – astoundingly, amazingly brilliant plant. A plant equivalent of Roller Bee-eater or Great Bustard as something you read about as child, look at the picture and think you will never, ever see. And what a name! Like ‘Ambrosia of the Gods’ or so I thought when I was ten.

    It grows in profusion at a site near my home and was worth waiting nearly half a century to see. You would be impressed, Mark. I’d love to show you. When there is time for such things.

    So, somehow ‘wild flower’ doesn’t cut it!

  2. This flower is the flower of Cumberland. Now extinct – Cumbria has swallowed it up! On the other hand Golf is also becoming extinct in many areas with dramatic falls in numbers playing with treats to many clubs around Britain. A survey by KPMG, an audit firm in 2012 reported that golf clubs in the UK and Ireland lost 42,700 members in 2011 – though that still left 1,326,700 members plus many that never join a club and play only occasionally. A survey by KPMG, an audit firm in 2012 reported that golf clubs in the UK and Ireland lost 42,700 members in 2011 – though that still left 1,326,700 members plus many that never join a club and play only occasionally. In Cumbria alone, numbers playing golf have fallen from 13500 to 9500 in a 4 year period!
    A fairly new links course opened in 2009 at Machrihanish Dunes near Campbeltown, Argyll is the first to be granted permission to be built on a full SSSI. The reason for the decision was that only 5 acres of the course were to be worked on out of the 275 acres of stable dunes.

    1. Good news! One of the biggest threats to ancient woodland in the UK is the creation and expansion of golf courses. Abroad they have been implicated in diverting water from local farmers for keeping courses green, destruction of rainforest, fertiliser run off damaging coral reefs etc. Hopefully this is a global trend. Imagine if all the time, effort and money that goes into knocking little balls around with golf clubs went into appreciating and conserving nature instead, what a phenomenal difference that would make.

    2. I heard a news item recently about Adidas and Nike (I think) pulling out of selling golf equipment because of this decline. Those companies are run by very hard-nosed people who no doubt have lots of data on market trends on which to base their decisions so it all raises the question of whether there is really any ‘need’ at all for a new golf course in NE Scotland. Certainly not a need that is remotely great enough to justify destruction of such a lovely place.

      1. Nike are not pulling out of golf, they have decided to cease manufacturing clubs because they don’t make the money of clubs that they do on clothing. People change their clubs every 5-15 years, whereas their golf shoes etc get changed every few years. Nike have decided to concentrate solely on golf clothing, as have Adidas, although Adidas will continue to manufacture clubs under the Taylor Made brand name.

        1. I stand corrected. However, I may have misconstrued what Adidas and Nike are doing but the news item I saw certainly mentioned falling numbers of golf players. Whether or not the numbers of players is falling I would certainly question the need to turn this lovely area into a golf course, wouldn’t you?

          1. Yes absolutely, I think the proposed development is outrageous, perhaps my comment below didn’t make that clear.

            In this instance I think the UK’s golf participation statistics are largely meaningless – this is a development aimed at trousering overseas tourist cash, mainly American, but also quite a bit from Japan, Hong-Kong and possibly Sweden. It’s part of a wider trend of the UK being up for sale to the highest bidder – regardless of the impacts on local communities and the environment.

            And yes I was being a tad pedantic…:-)

  3. Well we should all get behind this campaign… then maybe Plantlife etc might be more outspoken about the damage muirburn does to moorland plantlife.

  4. Looks very much like Braunton Burrows. Have you been down there? It’s gorgeous when the orchids are out.

      1. yes although the slacks are drying up. The concrete landing vessels are still there as are the pill boxes facing inwards 🙂

  5. I cried when I read this. I cried for this place, and because it stands for so many, similar, supposedly protected habitats. I am sad we have this state of affairs, and sad for myself, because after this initial sadness has passed, I fear exhaustion, acceptance of yet another inevitable situation. I fear I might not gear up to do something about it. As the current grouse moor campaign illustrates, people like the Marks and the Chriss seem to just keep going, whatever. If anyone has any advice for me about keeping going, then tell me it now, because I must. I must for my own sanity, but more importantly, I must for places like Coul Links.

    I have visited here, and as well as all the important, specific, life forms that the various conservation agencies speak for, it’s simply a stunningly beautiful place, with a feeling of quiet permanence which, from this post, is clearly illusory. Whilst all those specific named birds, plants, insects etc are important in themselves, there is something here about the place as a whole. The situation as a whole. It is, for goodness sake, a triple SI. It is supposedly protected. How can it not be, anymore?

    I know occasionally the answer to that is because we need places for people to live, or better transport links, or a hospital, or whatever… But a golf course? Or for that matter, something I might personally enjoy like a swimming pool, or a foodie emporium. Nobody has to have more of any of those things. But we must keep our few very scarce wild(er) places. I’m choosing, at the moment, to contain my anger… but maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe my anger will fuel action.

    1. Daphne – have a quick sob and then think of something you can do – not necessarily in this case – but generally because the need to defend nature and speak up for it and stand up for it, is everywhere. Thank you very much for your comment.

  6. Braunton Burrows was looking fabulous in July, I played 18 holes around the East course (one of my favourites). My propensity to find the rough from the tee allowed plenty of opportunities for botanising.

  7. A quick look at the map and I’ve found a golf course just down the road. I’ve found another one just up the road. In fact, there’s one in Brora and Golspie and Dornoch and Clashmore and Bonar Bridge and Tain and Portmahomack. All within a few miles as the Hen harrier flies.
    Still, all that waste land has to be used for something I suppose. Mustn’t let the Parnassus grow under our feet.

  8. ‘There’s a golf course just on the other side of Loch Fleet for heaven’s sake!’

    Yes, Golspie. It’s not much to write home about, however just to the south of Coul Links lies Royal Dornoch which is, imo, one of the top 5 Links in Scotland, and theirin lies the problem. My experience of Dornach was it was a magnet for golf tourists from the USA. ‘All the gear, no idea types’ known for slow play, gaudy trousers, gravity defying back swings and tenous Scottish ancestry.

    Presumably the plans for Coul Links include a 5 star hotel, luxury spa etc. And it wouldn’t surprise me if moves are afoot to develop the airfield just south of Dornoch so as to enable more Trump-lite types to fly in, spend and consume, before flying-out again.

    I suspect the economic arguments for the Couls Links proposal will be very strong and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the SNP to kick this into touch. Troubling, and it is cases like this which give golf a bad name – this is something that the R&A should seek to address.

    New courses wouldn’t actually be required if most golfers just speeded up and stopped fannying around. It shouldn’t take anyone more than 3.5 hours to play 18 holes – ideally 3.25 hours. Playing times appear to crept up to over 4.5 hours on many holiday courses – the sight of 24-handicap hacker prancing around on the tee taking more practice swings than Nick Faldo would if he was playing the last hole of a major is ridiculous! Rant over…

    1. Ernest – and very enjoyable I found it too. A glance into a completely unfamiliar world. thank you.

    2. let’s be honest Golf players are a nice differently dressed minority which us the majority can use to offload blame for screwing up the planet. If only we could get rid of golfers (and various other minorities..) we would be in an environmental utopia.

      1. just had a thought – how about a ‘ban driven golf’ petition? putting is SO much less harmful

        1. All golf courses should be declared NVZ and be subject to closed periods for fertiliser spreading and a cap on inorganic nitrogen use. That would learn ’em

          1. That would cause a few parkland type courses on sandy loam’s some major problem’s I suspect, not so on links turf dominated by fescue and bent grasses. I believe annual N usage on this type of turf is in the region of 90-100 kg/ha year, and N only applied March – Early Sept.

            As a rule I think the general standard of agronomy in the sports turf sector is light years ahead of that in the agriculture. A head green keeper once told me that every head Green Keepers nightmare was to have a farmer in charge of the Green’s Committee!

  9. I have just been told ‘Golf Football’ is taking off. Kicking balls into bigger holes! Fortunately they don’t need a ‘Links’ to play it on!

Comments are closed.