Sir, The latest public relations announcements about the proposed international golf course at Coul Links, Embo (NT, May 13) ignore several inconvenient truths, particularly the non-monetary value of its natural environment and the unavoidable impacts of the intended development.
The proposed developer, Mr Warnock, talks of bothies providing information on the "walking trails, flora and fauna on the new course along with its history". If the development goes ahead, I wonder if this will also catalogue honestly what wildlife and habitat diversity, geomorphological features, hydrology and natural amenity have been destroyed.
There is talk of present environmental studies on the links. These must actually supplement several that have already taken place. The Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest, of which Coul Links forms the southern part, was designated in 1949 and enlarged in 1984. SSSIs are nationally important for their biology (plants and animals) and/or physical geography.
Biological criteria for SSSI selection include diversity of species and habitats, naturalness, rarity of species and/or habitats, size, distinctiveness, typicality and fragility. These attributes, save for the last, will all be severely depleted if the site is landscaped for an international golf course, making it a pale shadow of its former self.
The southern end of the SSSI has a relatively extensive mosaic of wet dune slacks, dwarf willow scrub and flushes, which are a particularly distinctive and species-rich habitat. These presently form part of the proposed development, as is evidenced by a tee marking cane in the longest basin mire, which is a winter loch parallel to the foredune.
The likelihood is that many such features would be infilled with sand from elsewhere on site (as drainage is impossible), landscaped, reseeded, pathed and manicured, and their dependent flora displaced.
I have never seen a golf course sited on an unmodified mire. At the north end, near Loch Fleet, there is a large salt marsh inlet, a nationally very localised habitat type, also potentially at risk. The Loch Fleet SSSI has a Ramsar designation as an internationally important wetland.
The SSSI also has a European designation as a Special Protection Area for its ornithological interest. Habitat reduction and increased human disturbance would deplete this.
The beach at Coul Links is part of Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve. Wildlife is wonderful and fundamentally important both intrinsically and for public wellbeing. The majority of tourists do not visit Scotland for golf but for the natural amenities. (Perhaps they are of Mark Twain’s opinion: "Golf is a good walk spoiled".)
Particularly with rising sea levels, more extreme weather and coastal surges, the natural coastal defence value of dunes should not be underestimated. Embo may eventually become a precarious headland.
Sand dunes, dune slacks and coastal heath with juniper scrub are by their nature localised habitats. How many unmodified sand dunes of this extent and environmental quality remain on the entire east coast of Scotland? It may be the last.
No amount of landscaping and wildlife gardening mitigation can substitute for a natural dune system. Donald Trump’s SSSI shenanigans set a bad precedent near Aberdeen. Now, not a single dune, semi-natural coastal grassland or machair is safe.
Scotland’s priceless natural heritage is at severe risk. The more environmentally sensitive option is to site golf courses elsewhere where their impact is less destructive.