Coul Links inquiry begins


The alliance of environmental conservation organisations campaigning to save Coul Links has welcomed the start of a public inquiry this week into whether the controversial proposals should go ahead. The inquiry in Clashmore, near Dornoch, is set to last at least four weeks and will hear evidence from a number of experts on why the internationally important wildlife site is unsuitable for a golf course and should be saved from development. It will then be up to Scottish Ministers to make the final call.

Witnesses giving evidence on behalf of the conservation coalition are: Craig Macadam, Buglife Scotland's Conservation Director; Jonny Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and a Global Councillor for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); Dr Lucy Wright, a Principal Scientist at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science; and Butterfly Conservation's Dr Mark Young, an Emeritus senior lecturer at Aberdeen University.

Arctic Tern breeds at the undeveloped dune system at Coul Links (Chris Griffin).

The inquiry was prompted by the Scottish Minister's decision to 'call in' the proposals due to "issues of national importance in relation to natural heritage". The plans for the proposals were passed by Highlands Councillors despite over 1,800 objections being lodged and the Council's own planners recommending refusal. A Save Coul Links e-action run by the coalition last year prompted almost 13,000 people to take action by contacting MSPs and Scottish Ministers about the proposals.

Aedán Smith, Head of Planning and Development, RSPB Scotland said: "We welcome the Inquiry and the opportunity to submit expert evidence to set out exactly why Coul Links is the wrong place for these damaging proposals. Given the wildlife importance of the site these plans should never have been allowed to progress this far; we urge Scottish Ministers to ensure that this internationally important place for nature is saved from this inappropriate development and remains a special place for wildlife."

Coul Links is one of the most protected nature sites in Scotland and one of the last remaining undisturbed dune systems of its kind in Scotland. It is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Area and Ramsar Site. The proposed golf course could have hugely detrimental impacts on its wildlife and habitats. 

Alistair Whyte, Head of Plantlife Scotland, commented: "We are pleased that the Scottish Government decided to call in this controversial application. This inquiry will hear the evidence as to why Coul Links, with its national and international protected status, should remain safeguarded for wildlife. To build a golf course on such an important protected site would damage Scotland's reputation the world over. Following the inquiry, all eyes will be on the Scottish Government as we wait for them to do the right thing."

Jonny Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, added: "As a former warden at Coul Links I have first-hand experience of living and working there. It’s a place that has both outstanding ecological value and a special wildness. It would be a national tragedy if it is lost to development. Ultimately the power to save Coul Links lies with Scottish Ministers. The international significance of the area makes this a critical test of this government's resolve to stand by its commitments to protect the natural environment."