Battle to prevent Coul Links golf course development going ahead goes viral
The fight against the proposed Coul Links golf course has gone global and viral in a spectacular online protest.
By yesterday morning when we went to press, more than 80,000 people had signed a petition against the project.
The numbers of signatories in the past week alone soared by 63,000 to take the total to 81,388– more than six times the entire population of Sutherland.
But ecological surveyor Andrew Weston, who started the Save Protected Nature at Loch Fleet from Golf Development vandalism petition, defended the huge numbers of people from outside the area who have protested.
He said that an analysis of who had signed their petition would be made before it is handed in to Highland Council – which would be a few days before the December 22 deadline.
Last week the petition stood at around 18,000 which Mr Weston said had been "predominantly" signed by people resident in Scotland.
Also there have been 700 or so individual objections to Highland Council with a significant percentage by local people, he said.
Dornoch resident Mr Weston put the huge increase in protest down to the petition now being more widely circulated.
He said: "It is not a parochial issue – it is a site of international significance and as a result has attracted a wide range of opposition.
"There is a lot of local opposition and I know of local golfers who do not want this course."
He also questioned the tourism value of the proposed course as opposed to the value of nature tourism.
He asked: "How do you value the tourist value of our Sites of Special Scientific Interest? Why do tourists come to Scotland – do they come to play golf and would those tourists come if it is all golf courses?"
Mr Weston said the proposal covers an area of international importance and that made objections to it from outside the area "perfectly valid".
Those coming out in favour of the proposal, according to the Coul Links Ltd website, was 488by yesterday morning.
Meanwhile, Scottish Natural Heritage has objected to the course, specifically on two points which the developers say are surmountable.
SNH has submitted its advice to planning authority Highland Council saying it is objecting despite recognising "the many benefits the development would bring."
The agency said: "Having considered all aspects, SNH is objecting to the proposal due to the extent of impact on the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)."
Nick Halfhide, director of operations, added: "We have worked closely with the developer on this proposed new golf course and appreciate the efforts they have made in trying to mitigate the environmental impact.
"We recognise the many benefits the development would bring to Embo and the local economy, and we welcome the developers’ commitment to high standards of construction and management.
"However, we are not able to fully support the development as proposed due to the loss of more than 16 hectares of nationally important sand dunes, and the impact on the special plants and animals found there."
The development proposals include a range of measures to improve the management of the site for nature but SNH considers these do not outweigh the permanent loss to the sand dunes.
SNH say Coul’s sand dunes contain some of the best dune habitat in Scotland and this is also one of the few sites in Scotland to support populations of green felt lichen and the rare Fonseca’s seed fly.
Scotland’s largest conservation charity, The National Trust for Scotland, has also submitted a formal objection to the planning application made by Coul Links Ltd to build the 18-hole golf course, a clubhouse and associated buildings, as well as an access road on top of the protected sand dune system.
Its objection adds to others concerned at the loss of Coul Links, which they claim would transform an "irreplaceable piece of Scotland’s heritage."
The trust also questions the economic value claimed for the project, which is being led by Mike Keiser, the American billionaire golf resort developer, and the hotelier Todd Warnock.
The trust’s head of natural heritage policy, Stuart Brooks, said: "While it is perfectly understandable that local people want and need jobs, we know from the Dornoch Area Community Interest Company that it is the area’s outstanding natural environment that is the biggest draw for visitors, and this could and should be a positive foundation for sustainable economic development."