Sutherland dunes under threat

Nesting Arctic Terns also use the last remaining undeveloped dune system in Scotland, at Coul Links, Sutherland. Photo: Chris Gomersall (www.rspb-images.com).
Nesting Arctic Terns also use the last remaining undeveloped dune system in Scotland, at Coul Links, Sutherland. Photo: Chris Gomersall (www.rspb-images.com).
A conservation partnership has united to save Scotland's last remaining untouched dune habitat from development.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, BugLife and Plantlife Scotland have come together to campaign against a proposal by American developer Todd Warnock 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 developers have proposed landscaping and a public park in mitigation, along with a promise to maintain and enhance existing walking trails.

The partnership is highlighting the site's 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 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 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 fore-dune 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.

A petition to register protest at the proposals is online now.