Sand dunes at Coul Links

Three months ago, Highland councillors voted narrowly in favour of granting planning permission for an 18-hole golf course development on a protected nature site – Coul Links. This decision was against the advice of their own planning officer’s recommendation and an objection from NatureScot, the national nature conservation agency.


But quick as lightning nature lovers from across Scotland and the UK rallied in a bid to stop this disastrous decision. Along with our Conservation Coalition partners, RSPB Scotland asked you to help, and in the space of a few weeks over 11,000 emails were sent to Planning Minister Joe FitzPatrick, asking him save Coul Links.


This phenomenal response appears to have influenced the Scottish Government to promptly call-in the decision. Planning reporters have now been appointed to consider the case and make a recommendation to Ministers, who will make the final decision.

 A orange and black butterfly on a purple flower.

A Dark Green Fritillary butterfly on Tufted Vetch at Coul Links (Alison Searl)

As we await the Scottish Government’s next steps, we still need to make our views heard.  To help with that here are some key points which you might like to include in a letter to your MSPs, MP or your favourite newspapers, to keep minds focused on the need to protect this important wildlife habitat.


You can find your MSPs’ details here.


Coul Links – key points


  1. We’ve been here before. A previous, very similar, proposal was refused by Scottish Ministers in 2020, due to significant adverse impacts on the nationally and internationally protected sites for nature. The developers have failed to learn lessons from that clear rejection. These proposals at this location are still completely unacceptable. A reminder of what Scottish Ministers said in 2020 is here.


  1. The strength of public and professional concern is clear. There were over 700 objections to the planning application (only half that number wrote in support of it), and over 11,000 people across Scotland and the UK wrote to Planning Minister Joe FitzPatrick urging him to call-in the application. The application was recommended for refusal by The Highland Council’s own planning professionals after they had considered all the details of the proposal, including the advice and objection from NatureScot, the Scottish Government’s own advisors on nature.


  1. This is the wrong location for a development. The site is so important for nature it is part of three legally protected nature sites, the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area (SPA), the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar site, and the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The Applicant seems determined to pursue this development as they have said in the documents supporting their application that its success rests on its links location. There are other less sensitive locations in the area.


  1. Claims about economic impact are a distraction. As has been shown with the previous application, the claimed economic benefits wouldn’t outweigh the damage that would be caused to wildlife. And no matter who the developer is, this is the wrong place for development.


  1. Improving the condition of the site doesn’t require a golf course development. It would be great if the condition on the site could be improved so it is even better for nature. The landowner has a current management agreement with NatureScot aimed at improving the site; this is already in place and has several years yet to run. It doesn’t need a golf course. That would be like arguing that to restore an old masterpiece you need to rip holes in the canvas! Under the new national planning framework, developments must demonstrate how they will enhance biodiversity; this proposal will very clearly cause damage.


Do let us know if you decide to contact your politicians or the media – we’d love to hear what they say. You can contact us at

Update 26 March 

The Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals division (DPEA), which is now considering the Coul Links application, has written to all objectors and supporters, including those who took part in our recent e-action.

You don’t have to respond, unless you are a big fan of planning procedures! The planning Reporters considering the application will see all the correspondence that has been sent already.

It’s great that the views of over 11,000 people who used our template to write to the planning minister are being considered. RSPB Scotland and our Conservation Coalition partners will be following proceedings closely, and we will keep supporters informed of what happens.

Objectors’ and supporters’ details, including names and postal addresses, are included in the documents on the DPEA website. If you’d rather your details were not published, you can ask the DPEA to remove them. Contact information is provided in the letter from the DPEA.

The main purpose of the DPEA letter is to advise of a pre-examination meeting on 13 May to discuss the next steps in the process and ask whether people want to take part in further procedures, such as hearings, written submission or full inquiry sessions. The meeting will also be available online here  for anyone to watch.

Thank you again for your support as we once more try to #SaveCoulLinks.

Main image (c) Alison Searl