Coul Links is a rare duneland habitat on the Sutherland coast which is being threatened with destruction by plans to build a golf course. Here RSPB Scotland’s conservation officer Alison Searl recalls a year of nature at Coul Links and why we’re part of a coaltion of conservation organisations campaigning to save it. Details on how you can help by submitting objections are included at the end. 

A year of nature at Coul Links

Early on a late spring morning Coul Links is alive with bird song. Yellowhammer, chaffinches, whitethroats, willow warblers, song thrush, blackbirds, robins, wrens, dunnock, whinchat and tits are all busy in the scrub along the old shore line at the back of the links beneath the adjacent farm land.  The liquid song of a curlew can be heard as it soars overhead and snipe are drumming over the low lying marshy margins of the residual pools that have been left as the winter flooding of the dune slacks retreats.

As I walk out across ancient grass covered sand dunes, meadow pipits flit out from under my feet, larks are hovering ahead filling the air with their song (as they have been since January) and there is the distinct accelerating pipping of a descending meadow pipit performing its parachuting display. An elusive grasshopper warbler throws it whir from a rushy area while a sedge warbler is buzzing about on a frenetic song flight. A group of teal take off from under my feet as I approach one of the pools that still retains its winter flood water and a reed bunting is calling from fence post.

Round the corner, some shelduck are hanging out on another pool and the prehistoric form of a heron is poised ready strike at some unlucky frog. Pulling up on to heathery heath, a stonechat clacks at me and the resident buzzards are mewing overhead. Then I head down to the sandflats at the north of the site where terns have nested in recent years and oystercatchers and ringed plover are settling down to raise their families.

Later in the summer and into autumn, the terns and osprey arrive, feeding over the Fleet and flocks of linnet and twite will be enjoying the harvest of wild seed provided by Coul Links. As winter approaches, Coul Links continues to provide a refuge for meadow pipits and larks, stone chat, reed bunting, linnets, twite and other finches, snipe, curlew, oystercatchers and other waders as well as teal, wigeon, mallard and shelduck. Meanwhile, the local kites, peregrine and buzzard all take advantage of the wide array of dining opportunities offered by Coul Links.

Sadly this wildlife paradise is now under threat as it is proposed to construct a golf course across Coul Links replacing the rich undisturbed mosaic of dune habitats with neatly managed greens, fairways and paths. The fragmented remnants of natural habitat that will be persevered will no longer be able to support the rich plant and invertebrate diversity that the bird life depends on. Many of the bird species that currently use the links are intolerant of human disturbance and are likely to disappear during the construction of the golf course, never to return. 

Scotland has been here before – only a decade ago permission was granted for the Trump International Golf Course in Aberdeenshire despite ours, and many others, objections due to the havoc it would wreck on the protected dunelands there. Unfortunately, the construction of the golf course has caused massive environmental damage. The same mistakes must not be made at Coul Links.

RSPB Scotland is one of a coalition of conservation organisations, along with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Plantlife, Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society, campaigning to save this site for nature. Please help us by making an objection to the planning application that threatens to destroy Coul Links by emailing quoting reference number 17/04601/FUL in the subject line. You can also submit comments on the Highland Council website here. The closing date for emails and comments is 22nd December. Visit our casework page for more information on how to make your voice heard, including contacting your local councillors if you are a resident of Highland Council.