Coul Links

Tagged with: Casework status: Open Casework type: Construction Site designations: Ramsar site Site designations: SPA Site designations: SSSI
Oystercatcher flock in flight over water.

Overview

A planning application has been submitted to Highland Council for a golf course that threatens a protected area of valuable coastal dune habitat, home to many species of wildlife. 

The developers propose to build a golf course on Coul Links to the immediate south of Loch Fleet in East Sutherland, Scotland. Coul Links is one of the last areas of undeveloped species-rich dune habitat in Scotland. 

Together with Loch Fleet itself, Coul Links is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and an international Special Protection Area and Ramsar site.

The proposed golf course would destroy this unique collection of dune habitats and would result in harmful disturbance to both wintering and breeding waders, waterfowl and other species, many of which are rare or declining in number.

Map

Why is it worth fighting for?

Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve is a large tidal basin surrounded by dunes, dune slacks, saltmarsh and pine woods.  The mudflats which are exposed at low tide provide a rich food source for thousands of birds.

Coul Links on the south side of the loch is one of the last areas of undisturbed species-rich duneland in Scotland. It is a mosaic of different dune habitats, each individually important and all increasing rare. It is particularly special as a complete dune system with dynamic, shifting dunes, static older dunes, seasonally flooded dune slacks, and ancient sand dunes covered by heath. 

The dune complex at Coul Links is home to many different birds, especially waders and waterfowl such as curlews, oystercatchers, dunlins, bar-tailed godwits, ringed plovers and terns. Large flocks of eider overwinter just offshore. Breeding birds which also stand to lose their homes include skylarks, whinchats and cuckoos which are all in decline across the UK. Many of the species are of Conservation Concern being either Red or Amber Listed. During the breeding season the links are alive with birdsong. 

Mammals recorded on the site include voles, wild cats, pine martens, badgers, stoats, weasels and bats. The dunes also provide home to a colourful and rich variety of flowering plants (including sea centuary, purple milk-vetch, moonwort and frog orchid) and insects including some rare specialist species.

Many of the animals, birds and insects present depend upon free movement between the different dune habitats (at different stages of their life cycle, for example).

The huge importance for wildlife of Loch Fleet and Coul Links is reflected by the fact that the area is protected nationally as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and internationally as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site.

The mosaic of dune habitats is currently intact and human visitors mainly stick to the few footpaths that pass through the site. Wildlife can therefore use and move freely within and between habitats. The construction of a network of tees, fairways, manicured greens and footpaths weaving through the SSSI and SPA would destroy the habitat mosaic. Wildlife would no longer be able to freely move between the remaining fragmented pockets of dune habitats. Many of the birds and other animals that currently use the site would be scared off by increased and regular human presence and be unlikely to return.

Curlew Numenius arquata, bathing in shallow pool, Geltsdale RSPB reserve, Cumbria, England

How you can help

There are lots of ways that you can help our campaign.

Submit a comment on the Planning Application NOW, although the formal deadline has passed, your voice can still make a difference, please contact the Council to express your concerns about the proposals.

Find the application online HERE (application reference 17/04601/FUL).

Please email the Highland Council at eplanning@highland.gov.uk with the application reference 17/04601/FUL in the subject line, or follow the instructions on Council’s website to submit a comment objecting to the development via its e-planning portal. 

You might wish to include some of the following issues in your response:

  1. Coul Links is specially protected for conservation and wildlife as part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site. These designations are applied to the best of Scotland’s natural heritage and are intended to ensure that the site is protected for the present and future generations. The habitat within Coul Links forms a unique part of the overall area covered by each of the designations. 
  2. Coul Links is particularly special as a complete undisturbed dune system with mosaic of different interlinked dune habitats that are all of national and international importance for wildlife and increasingly rare.  Plants and animals can move freely within and between different dune habitats. Similar complexes that previously existed elsewhere in eastern Scotland have been lost to golf courses, marinas, industrial sites and other developments.
  3. Coul Links provides habitat for many species of birds, plants and animals including invertebrates that are rare or in severe decline elsewhere in the UK and some of which only occur in this part of East Sutherland. Fragmentation of the dune complex will create pockets of habitat that are too small to support genetically diverse healthy plant and invertebrate communities. Many of the animal and bird species area are unlikely to remain once there is a regular human presence across the site.
  4. The Coul Links dune complex took thousands of years to form and is irreplaceable. Once it has been destroyed by the golf course, many of the plants and invertebrates would be unable to recolonise the artificially created landscape. 

Write to your Councillor and/or MSP

If you live in the Highland Council area, you can help to save Coul Links by writing to your local Councillor expressing your concerns about the development.

If you live in Scotland, you can write to your regional and constituency MSPs expressing your concerns.

You can also write to express your concerns to Kevin Stewart MSP, the Minister for Local Government and Housing. 

You can also sign these petitions against the proposals:

Submit a comment on the Planning Application NOW, your voice can still make a difference, please contact the Council to express your concerns about the proposals.

Our position

We are extremely concerned about the proposals and do not believe that a golf course can be accommodated on the site without unacceptable impacts on many rare and valuable species and habitats. 

We have formed a partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife, Plantlife Scotland, the Marine Conservation Society and Butterfly Conservation Scotland to campaign against the proposals. As a group, we have written to the developers expressing our concern regarding the proposals and their failure to fully engage with the conservation organisations and urging them to think again. We have lodged a strong objection to the planning application.

 Dunlin with summer plumage in grass

Timeline

  • March 2018
    Further information is submitted by the developer, mainly outstanding documents and information in relation to hydrology and the proposed recreational access management plan.

  • February 2018
    Additional information is submitted by the developer, mainly in relation to hydrology and the proposed recreational access management plan.

  • December 2017
    Closing date for planning submissions - 22nd December. 

  • October 2017
    Planning application published on Highland Council website: opportunity for general public to submit comments on the application to Highland Council. 

  • August 2017
    Several press articles suggest that a planning application is expected in September 2017.

  • May 2017
    The partnership hosts a local event celebrating the special wildlife of Coul Links.

  • March 2017
    Butterfly Conservation Scotland joins the partnership of conservation organisations speaking out against the proposals.

  • September 2016
    Marine Conservation Society joins the partnership of conservation organisations speaking out against the proposals.
  • August 2016
    RSPB Scotland forms partnership with Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife and Plantlife Scotland to campaign against the proposals. The partnership writes to the developers expressing its concern regarding the proposals and lack of meaningful engagement, and urging the developers to think again.
  • August 2016
    Second public consultation event held by developers.

  • August 2016
    Highland Council issues a revised scoping opinion following consultation with Scottish Natural Heritage.

  • July 2016
    Developers hold a local public consultation event on their emerging proposals. RSPB Scotland registers concern about the impacts of the proposals on the SSSI and SPA and the site’s importance for wildlife more generally.

  • July 2016
    Highland Council issues a scoping opinion, setting out matters that the environmental impact assessment will be required to cover.

  • May 2016
    RSPB Scotland writes to developers’ EIA consultant offering to discuss the project. Consultant declines the offer.

  • January 2016
    Highland Council confirms that the proposals would require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

  • December 2015
    Developer requests opinion from Highland Council on whether the proposal will require an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and if so, what matters the EIA should cover.