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

Alan Tissiman

Tuesday 30 August 2016

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 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.

Coul Links are protected as part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area which has been designated for its importance to foraging osprey in the summer and for thousands of over-wintering wildfowl and waders. It supports internationally important wintering populations of Icelandic greylag goose, wigeon and bar-tailed godwit and nationally important populations of teal, scaup, curlew and redshank.

Coul Links are also protected as part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar site which is designated for its sand dune, saltmarsh and estuary habitats that are of international importance for their flora and geomorphology. The Ramsar citation notes that the tidal flats support internationally important numbers of waterfowl in winter and are the most northerly and substantial extent of intertidal habitat for wintering waterfowl in Europe.

Coul Links are also part of the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest, designated because of its important intertidal and coastal habitats, vascular plant assemblages and breeding and over-wintering birds. The SSSI citation notes that Coul Links is an extensive dune system which is unusual in displaying a complete transition from foredune to slacks with well developed coastal heathland in drier areas. There is a rich floral diversity including variegated horsetail, purple milk-vetch, rue-leaved saxifrage, moonwort and frog orchid. Breeding birds include ringed plover, oystercatcher, shelduck, eider, arctic tern, common tern, little tern, wheatear, sedge warbler and reed bunting and over-wintering birds include a nationally important population of eider that benefits from the low level of human disturbance.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Topic: Habitat conservation