Sir – I attended the Coul Links Public Consultation Event at Embo.
The display was biased towards the benefits to golf and the local economy, with little information provided about the ecological value of this internationally important site. Without this, how can consultees make an informed judgement and how much credence can be attached to a vote?
We were asked “Do you support the principle of a golf course on this site?”.
My typed response was: No.
It would be beneficial if consultees were provided with paper copies of the revised development map, like those displayed, with maps and questionnaire also available on the Internet, preferably with the map revised to show total avoidance of the SSSI and other areas of high ecological interest.
The avoidance of the salt marsh and dune spit is good news. However, I feel negative and depressed about the proposed and avoidable abuse of the ecology, landscape and flood defence integrity of the Loch Fleet SSSI, SPA, Ramsar site and part NNR, ostensibly legally protected.
The development would severely damage probably the best example of an unmodified and species-diverse dune system on the entire north and east coasts of Scotland between Cape Wrath and the Tweed estuary. For example, there are 651 species of flowering plants alone recorded on SNH’s website for the Loch Fleet SSSI, and Coul Links is the most diverse part of this for dune plants. It is part of the integrity of Loch Fleet SSSI and neighbouring SSSIs along the Dornoch Firth. (Paradoxically the richest area of quality rabbit-grazed calcareous dune turf is immediately north of the SSSI near Embo, between the burn and the banks of buried refuse, tall ruderal and fly-tipped garden waste, because of old SSSI boundary-drawing policies).
I think there should be a presumption against developing a nationally important SSSI for sport, particularly when there is already a plethora of coastal golf courses in Scotland and there is no compulsion or necessity to site them with a close sea view; if the developers and supporters cared more about the Scottish ecology, landscape and legislation, or wished to accept expert advice.
I believe that the economic benefits may be exaggerated, just as Trump did for Menie SSSI (Aberdeen), and that the benefits, as there, will be outweighed by the environmental destruction.
Unique habitats, and their dependent species of plants and animals don’t have a dollar-price, but some people attach too low a value on them. The unique natural winter loch at Coul Links, with its mosaic of smaller mires and calcareous hummocks, is almost a mile long and (I am reliably informed) is the finest surviving in Scotland.
All but the deepest central strip is destined for artificial lawns of greens and fairways, probably by deep infilling, seeding with pure “improved” grass mix of foreign provenance to the site, herbicide treatment, intensive mowing, fertilising and irrigation (borehole).
The infilling with sand and soil, even if acquired from elsewhere on the site, will remove the mire ecology and alter the seedbank, nutrient status and hydrology irreversibly and also alter the ecology of any donor areas on site. If the material is taken from the foredune, this would weaken the natural sea defence, and very irresponsibly. Management of the rough is also of concern and my perception is that the site would become ranker and more under-grazed.
I find the published “positivity” about the development and the presumption that it will proceed, alarming, as if the site’s fate is already sealed by private discussions. Hopefully, the course will be sited elsewhere if enough people care enough about Scotland’s natural beauty and some authorities are more environmentally aware, rigorous and visionary than they were when they allowed Trump’s vandalism.