Scotways and Ramblers Scotland have announced we will join forces at a public inquiry in late February 2019, to object to plans for an 18-hole golf course on beautiful dunes at Coul Links in Sutherland.

Impacting recreation
Together, we will highlight the major negative impact of the golf course upon the enjoyment of the outdoors for residents and visitors.

The site at Embo near Dornoch is highly valued for recreation, due to the wild qualities of its pristine dune system and beach, set within the stunning coastal seascapes of eastern Sutherland. 

We have concerns about the impact on the informal recreation which is already taking place, and on Scottish access rights.  The public has a right of access to cross golf courses, as long as they avoid interfering with play and keep off the greens. The developer has drawn up a Recreation and Access Management Plan to set out how formal and informal access will be managed in future, but we are concerned about the worrying limitations on access it is proposing.

For example, a core path runs through the site along the route of a former railway line. This path forms part of the John o’ Groats Trail, a new long-distance route from Inverness along the north-east coast which is being rapidly developed by volunteers. The route has been praised in a parliamentary motion and is already growing in popularity with walkers even though it isn’t fully opened yet. It has the potential to boost the region’s tourism, health and the local economy.

We are concerned that the design of the golf course means that seven holes will be played across this core path, creating an unacceptable risk for people walking or cycling along the path.

You can read our initial joint statement to the inquiry in full here.

Damaging nature
As well as Scottish Natural Heritage objecting to the plans, there is a coalition of seven organisations working together to highlight the serious threats to the area’s biodiversity and wildlife. This includes RSPB Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Marine Conservation Society and Plantlife. 

The area is subject to national and international protections due to its special nature and wildlife. If the golf course goes ahead, two holes will intrude on to the beach in an exposed setting on the frontal dune ridge.

We generally support the nature charities’ compelling arguments, which they will outline jointly during a separate phase of the inquiry. 

In August 2018, the Scottish Government took the correct decision to ‘call in’ the application for further scrutiny. 

This decision followed Highland councillors voting in June 2018 to grant planning permission for the course despite their own planning officials, concerned residents and a range of environmental groups urging them to refuse the application.