Long-term environmental stewardship at the heart of new Coul Links golf course bid

A group set up by local people has taken the first step towards securing planning permission for a project it is confident offers the best option to restore and protect the environment at Coul Links, in East Sutherland, while establishing a new, world-class golf course there.

Communities for Coul (C4C) this week submitted a scoping application to The Highland Council for the ambitious environmental and golfing development on the shores of the Dornoch Firth.

A key aspect of the not-for-profit company’s proposal is a comprehensive plan to restore and protect the Coul Links Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

As well as perpetually protecting the wild coastal environment, the development would economically transform the area, creating much-needed employment for local people and further enhancing the reputation of the area as a world-class destination for golfers.

C4C has secured the commitment from internationally renowned course developer and environmentalist Mike Keiser to build the golf course, with the help of acclaimed golf designers Coore & Crenshaw, but they will only come on board after planning permission is received.

The group is raising money through donations to fund submission of a new planning application this year, once a wide range of environmental studies have been completed.

A community ballot held by C4C last June demonstrated a high level of local support for the plan, with a 44.4% turn-out and a 69.2% vote in favour.

A previous bid to develop a golf course on the site was rejected by Scottish Ministers in 2020.

C4C said that the new plan has focused on addressing concerns raised in the former application, including four key environmental aspects:

  • The amount of land to be used as tees, greens, fairways and walkways within the SSSI has been reduced by over 40% and now accounts for less than 1% of the Loch Fleet SSSI.
  • While maintaining the integrity of the design, the path of the course has been altered in places, to avoid the most environmentally valuable areas of dune heath, negating any requirement for heath translocation.
  • Instead of the fairways being stripped and replanted with new grass, they will be simply mown, preserving the native grasses and lichens and removing the requirement for the use of any fertilisers or nitrates.
  • All fairways will be broken up into two or more pieces, preventing fragmentation of small colonies of flora and fauna, through maintained connectivity.

Gordon Sutherland, of C4C, said: “Following close collaboration with our planning consultants and dialogue with NatureScot, Communities for Coul is pleased to have reached this milestone.

“Our team has studied golf courses such as Askernish, Machrihanish and Skibo, all of which are located on SSSIs, and we have embraced the methodologies and management adopted by NatureScot at these sites.

Our aim remains to achieve planning permission for one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive golf courses and use the income it generates to remediate the Coul Links SSSI and then sustain it for future generations.”

Mr Sutherland continued: “The carefully considered design and sensitive construction of the planned golf course means this is now an environmental project with a golf course at its heart.

“This incredibly important project will create many jobs, boost the economies of our local communities, encourage our young people to stay and new young families to make their home here, helping to reverse the ageing demographic of our area.

“It will be good for employment, good for our economy and good for the environment.”

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