CONTROVERSIAL plans for a world-class golf course in Sutherland are under threat after leading conservation groups called for the scheme to be withdrawn.

US golf entrepreneurs Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock hope to transform land at Coul near Embo into an 805-acre, 18-hole course.

But some conservationists have already called for surveys for the Fonseca’s seed fly, which they say is only found in the dune system on this particular stretch of coastline.

Scotland’s leading conservation charities are calling on developers to withdraw plans for the golf course on unspoiled coastal site rich in wildlife.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland, BugLife and Plantlife Scotland have come together to stop the project.

The partnership is highlighting its importance for wildlife and the fragility of its habitats. The partnership wrote yesterday to the developers urging them to think again.

It stated that it fully expects the government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to share its concerns about the proposal, and that it would make a full submission detailing its objections if the proposal goes forward into the planning process.

Coul Links are protected as part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area which has been designated for its importance to foraging osprey in the summer and for thousands of over-wintering wildfowl and waders.

Coul Links are also protected as part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Ramsar site which is designated for its sand dune, saltmarsh and estuary habitats that are of international importance for their flora and geomorphology. SNH has already advised Highland Council that there are likely to be “significant effects on the environment” caused by the championship course while a petition against the project has attracted more than 520 signatures.

A petition in favour has just under 300 signatures.

The area’s business leaders have embraced the prospect of new jobs and an influx of tourists and other golf courses have also welcomed the scheme.

A spokesman for the developers’ agents Jones Lang Lasalle has said: “The applicant is undertaking an environmental assessment of the site and its surroundings with the objective of achieving a development proposal that responds to the environment.”