A long sandy beach and tall grass at Coul Links.

A date has been set for an inquiry into hugely damaging plans for an 18-hole golf course development on the protected nature site of Coul Links in the Highlands.

After Highland Councillors narrowly decided to grant permission for the planning application last December, over 11,000 people took an RSPB Scotland action which sent messages to the planning minister urging him to call-in the decision given the site’s national and international importance. The minister called-in the decision and appointed Reporters from the Scottish Government’s Planning and Environmental Appeals Division (DPEA) to examine the case.

The DPEA has been considering what further evidence it requires to compile a report on the case and make a recommendation to Ministers. Hearings, a process where the Reporters ask experts for and against the proposal questions to better understand the key issues, are due to take place week beginning 11 November. The Reporters will then recommend to Scottish Ministers whether to grant or refuse permission. All of this means a final decision is unlikely until 2025.

A path through tall flowering vegetation.

Coul Links is so important for nature it is part of three legally protected nature sites. Camera Alison Searle


RSPB Scotland has maintained its objection to this development, which is very similar to a golf course proposal rejected following an inquiry back in 2020. We are part of the Conservation Coalition, along with Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust. In summary, our reasons for objecting are:

  • 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 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 urging him to call-in the application.
  • 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).
  • Claims about economic impact are a distraction. In refusing the previous very similar proposal, the government noted that the claimed economic benefits wouldn’t outweigh the damage that would be caused to wildlife.
  • Improving the condition of the site doesn’t require a golf course development. The landowner has a current management agreement with NatureScot aimed at improving the site.

As we get closer to the inquiry in November, we may need to your help in raising fresh awareness of the importance of protecting Coul Links from development.

Meantime, if you want to write to your MSPs to express your concern about the situation, or if you want to challenge claims made in the media by backers of the development, please take inspiration from our previous blog here.

If you haven’t already, sign up for our campaigns updates to be kept informed about Coul Links and other issues where you can act for nature.


Main image by Alison Searl.