Menie golf course development

Tagged with: Casework status: Closed Casework type: Construction Site designations: SSSI
David Douglas (Conservation Scientist) heads up a team looking into the effects of a wind farm on Golden plover Pluvialis apricaria, Sutherland, Scotland


Plans for a golf course, resort and housing at Menie, Aberdeen have been consented, but they will lead to extensive damage to a protected sand dune system.

The Scottish Government has consented proposals by Trump International Golf Links Scotland for a golf course complex with 1,500 houses at Menie, north of Aberdeen. 

The site includes an outstanding dune system, notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its physiographical and botanical interest.

The developer admits his proposals to vegetate open sand areas would destroy the very mobility of the dunes which was the special feature of the site. Experts dispute the likely effectiveness of proposed habitat translocation. 

The government stated that economic benefits outweigh the destruction of a site of national importance to nature conservation and construction has started.



Why is it worth fighting for?

The breeding bird community which will be affected by the development includes significant numbers of skylarks plus breeding lapwings and redshanks.

In winter, there are large numbers of pink-footed geese associated with the Ythan Estuary, Sands of Forvie and Meikle Loch Special Protection Area and hundreds of lapwings, curlews and golden plovers which will suffer from loss of habitat and increased disturbance.

However, it's not just birds that will be affected. The area is of outstanding importance for its coastal landform interest and for its associated vegetation. This site's assemblage of natural wind-blown landforms (a sand sheet and inundated dunes) is of an extent unparalleled in Great Britain.

Golf course development here will stabilise and thus inevitably destroy that interest. The associated vegetation includes important habitats, listed in Annex 1 of the EU Habitats Directive, of marram dune, fixed acid dune, dune heath and dune slacks. Loss of, and damage to, these individual habitats is inescapable with this development but it is the arresting of the natural succession caused by fixing the dunes and preventing their natural northwards progression which will be the greatest loss of scientific (and aesthetic) interest.

There is also a great deal of species interest, ranging from higher and lower plants and fungi to invertebrates and mammals, which will be affected. The northern part of the site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest but such will be the extent of damage to its geomorphological and vegetation interest that denotification may be considered. The southern part of the site, which is locally designated as a Site of Importance to Nature Conservation, will also lose much of its interest.

 Culbin Sands RSPB reserve. The East Beach, near Nairn. Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria). Morayshire, Scotland.

Our position

At initial meetings with the applicant, we indicated our opposition to any development which would significantly damage the site.

An outline planning application was made to Aberdeenshire Council for two golf courses and ancillary development, 500 executive houses, 950 holiday apartments and a large hotel. 

We objected, as did Scottish Natural Heritage and other conservation organisations, access bodies and the general public but the application was generally supported by the business community.

The council's planning committee – on the casting vote of its chairman - voted to refuse consent and under its Standing Orders the full council had no power to overturn the decision.

The applicant had indicated he would abandon the project rather than appeal and frantic political lobbying followed. In an unprecedented move, the Scottish Government called in the application for its own decision, which it was only able to do because no decision notice to refuse had yet been issued.

At the subsequent public local inquiry, held before three reporters and with minimal delay, we presented evidence jointly with Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Botanical Society of the British Isles. Four councillors who had voted for refusal while on the planning committee also gave evidence as objectors although Aberdeenshire Council, after an emergency meeting, voted to support the application. The applicant demanded the government should refuse consent rather than limit development to outwith the SSSI. After only a very short period government consented the outline application.

Detailed applications for Reserved Matters have since been consented by Aberdeenshire Council and work on the golf course within the SSSI has started.


  • July 2012
    Golf course opened
  • June 2010
    Construction begins
  • November 2008
    Consent issued by Scottish Government
  • November 2008
    Government announces that it is minded to consent the application
  • June-July 2008
    Public local inquiry held
  • February 2008
    Government announces that there is to be a public local inquiry
  • December 2007
    Government calls in application for its own determination. Aberdeenshire Council votes to support the grant of outline planning permission by Government
  • November 2007
    Area Committee resolves to grant outline planning permission, subject to ratification by Infrastructure Services (Planning) Committee. Infrastructure Services Committee resolves, on casting vote of Chair, to refuse consent
  • November 2006
    Outline planning consent sought from Aberdeenshire Council


We are deeply disappointed by the outcome of this case, which signals that even sites which should be protected for their nature conservation interest can legally be destroyed if the alleged economic benefits are sufficient.

In this case, we showed that an alternative design, which would still have been very damaging to botanical interests but would have avoided the SSSI, could have allowed a world-class development to take place. The developer threatened to abandon this enterprise if he did not get what he wanted in full and the government capitulated to his demands.