Walkers fight to once again save Highland dunes

Ramblers Scotland is calling on the outdoors community to unite to save globally-protected Highland dunes that are once again at risk of becoming a golf course.

Informal path at Coul Links

The walking charity is “shocked and extremely concerned” that developers have applied to build an 18-hole course at Coul Links, near Embo, just three years after the Scottish Government blocked a similar application.  

Ramblers Scotland has a launched a petition against the controversial new bid.  

The latest plans would permanently transform Coul Links, harming the natural landscape, access and the experience for people trying to enjoy its tranquil dunes. 

Seven holes would cross the John o’ Groats Trail long-distance route, which is also designated as a core path by The Highland Council. This would make it hard for walkers and other visitors to avoid interfering with play at busy times. 

Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy said: “We are shocked and extremely concerned that Coul Links is again under threat, just three years after a very similar application was rejected at Public Inquiry. In fact, it’s so similar that some documents have simply been re-submitted, including some dating back to 2017. 

“I’m proud that thousands of people within Scotland’s conservation and outdoors communities united with many locals to save Coul Links last time around. Sadly we must once again send out a clear signal that the nation’s finest beauty spots aren’t up for sale to the highest bidder. 

“Please sign our petition to fight this appalling plan and stand up for memorable, quiet places like Coul Links, before they’re lost forever.” 

Coul Links

Ramblers Scotland is concerned by many details within the application, including a lack of understanding of the way that Scottish access rights apply on golf courses. One document suggests that walkers will be restricted to using a single path and that work to create a Public Access Plan will only begin after the course is completed.

In its objection, the charity will point out that the development would permanently transform Coul Links and considerably reduce the amount of land the public can access. It will highlight how the plan conflicts with many Scottish Government priorities and policies, including the new National Planning Framework 4, which aims to tackle the climate and nature crises. 

The previous application was condemned by concerned residents, visitors, conservation charities and outdoor recreation groups. A Public Inquiry in 2020 found that the harmful environmental impacts of that development outweighed the claimed socio-economic benefits.

The Planning Minister at the time, Kevin Stewart, said in 2020: “This proposal does not comply with the relevant provisions of the Highland Wide Local Development Plan, and runs contrary to Scottish planning policy’s emphasis on protecting natural heritage sites and world class environmental assets.”

Coul Links’ dunes run alongside the Loch Fleet basin and one of the finest beaches on the Moray Firth. The site is a Special Protection Area for birds and designated under the international Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Part of the proposed course lies within Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest.

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