Coul Links, a rare coastal habitat in East Sutherland, is under threat from proposals to build a golf course. We’ve been campaigning in partnership with Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Marine Conservation Society and Scottish Wildlife Trust to save it from destruction. Here Isobel Mercer, policy officer at RSPB Scotland, provides an update on the latest stage in the efforts to save Coul Links and how you can help.

Save Coul Links: conservation partnership appeals to Ramsar


Coul Links in East Sutherland – what you will find on this unique stretch of coastline is a rare sight in the UK these days: an unmodified dune system that until now has been sheltered from development. Just how valuable this mosaic of rare habitats is for wildlife is reflected in the triple-level of protection it is granted nationally, at a European level, and also internationally as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.

As you may have heard this incredible place for nature is under threat from proposals to build a golf course here. The Coul Links partnership has written to the Ramsar Convention’s Secretariat in Switzerland to appeal for its support in ensuring that one of the last remaining intact dune systems in Scotland is not destroyed by development, as others have been. You can read a copy of the letter here.

We have asked the Ramsar Secretariat, as a matter of urgency, to place Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet on a list of threatened Ramsar Sites and to press the relevant governments in the UK to take swift action to prevent ecological damage from occurring to Coul Links. You can also lend us your help and support by raising these concerns with your MSP (you can find out who your MSPs are here).

Protected areas such as Ramsar sites are created to shelter our most valuable and loved wildlife from badly situated developments like this one. If they are allowed to exist in name only and become devoid of the very species and habitats that they protect, then they will be of no use to our cherished, and increasingly threatened, wildlife.

Wetland habitats support an incredibly diverse array of wildlife and also provide vital services, such as supplying us with all our fresh water and flood protection. The Ramsar Convention, which 169 countries have signed up to since the 1970s, is an agreement to protect internationally important wetlands and the species that live and depend on them. In the 1960s the international community began to truly grasp the global significance of wetland habitats and the urgent need to protect these valuable places from rising levels of loss and degradation. The Convention was a huge, ahead of the times win for the environmental movement.

As a member of the Ramsar Convention the UK is required to identify and protect wetlands of international importance in its territories – these are known as ‘Ramsar Sites’.

Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet, the Ramsar site within which Coul Links sits, contains unique wetland habitats such as saltmarsh, sand dunes and sandflats. It provides a home to over 20,000 wintering waterbirds including curlew, wigeon and teal, unusual plantlife and invertebrates such as Foneseca’s seed fly, which is unique to this part of Scotland.  A historical marvel, the dune system at Coul first began to develop thousands of years ago following the melting of the icecaps at the end of the last ice age. In winter, the amazing dune slacks flood and become awash with life, as over-wintering birds use these habitats to sheltering from bad weather and predators such as foxes.

And yet astoundingly, despite these protections, Coul Links is under threat from a planning application for an 18-hole championship golf course that has been submitted to the Highland Council. The construction of this golf course, which has been spearheaded by multi-millionaire American investors Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock, would destroy the unspoiled dune complex, through the creation of a network of tees, fairways, manicured greens and footpaths. This would damage and fragment the special wetland habitats which are internationally protected under the Ramsar Convention, and could in turn have harmful impacts on many of the other wetland species which make the site so special and of global importance.

Along with our partners in this campaign we’re working together to object to the proposed destruction of Coul Links, and other organisations including Ramblers Scotland, The National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas have also objected to Highland Council.

You too can speak out against the planning application to help save Coul Links. 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. The deadline for comments has been extended to 22nd December. Find out more about the campaign including some of the issues you may wish to raise in your response to the Highland Council here

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