IT is a familiar story – a US billionaire plans a luxury golf resort on fragile Scottish coastal land. But despite similarities to the development of Donald Trump’s Menie Estate links in Aberdeenshire, wildlife groups fighting the approval of the Coul Links scheme in Sutherland hope their planning battle will have a different outcome.

An alliance including RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust is urging the public to oppose leisure plans spearheaded by US tycoon Mike Keiser and businessman Todd Warnock.

If granted, the proposal will see an 18-hole course created north of Dornoch on an area that includes a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

Conservationists claim this is of international importance and any interference would disrupt a vulnerable sand dune system.

The case has striking similarities to the Trump course planning dispute, which ran for years. he vowed to protect the dunes at the SSSI on what is now his land.

The Coul Links proposals are set to go before Highland Council next month.

Aedan Smith of RSPB Scotland said the Menie battle had “severely dented Scotland’s environmental reputation”, adding: “It’s incredible that a potentially more damaging proposal could come forward.

“There are international oblig- ations to ensure the protection of Coul Links due to its global importance for wildlife.

“The eyes of the world will, therefore, once again be on Scotland, and on Highland Council when they make their planning decision, to see whether we now place more value on our special places.”

Coul Links is home to plant life including orchids and a rare colony of coastal juniper trees.

Migrant geese, waders and ducks are currently arriving to use the seasonal winter lochs that begin to form at this time of year and the area is also one of the only sites where the Fonseca’s seed fly has been detected.

The tiny insect is not found anywhere outside Sutherland.

In their submission to Highland Council, the groups have also raised concerns about “serious flaws” in the environmental assessment commissioned by the developers.

Craig Macadam, director of Buglife Scotland, said: “The dune systems at Coul Links have developed over thousands of years into an internationally important site for wildlife.

“As a nation, we have a duty to protect these dunes for future generations in the local community, Scotland and further afield.

“Highland Council must do everything in its power to protect this important natural heritage asset from these damaging development plans.”

However, the developers say they “fully appreciate the special nature of the site” and have redrawn blueprints to address fears of the impact on wildlife, with the course taking in only 1.8 per cent of the SSSI “after careful planning”.

They say “the protection and enhancement of the area has remained a top priority” while putting the proposals together and pledged to remediate almost six hectares of a felled tree plantation.

Meanwhile, a specially commissioned a biodiversity report found the project will boost plant and animal life. Major economic gains are also predicted. Consultants Biggar Economics estimate the resort would create 250 jobs over a decade, making more than £60 million for the East Sutherland region.

A number of local golf clubs have given the project their full support, as have Dornoch Area Community Interest Company and Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MSP Gail Ross, who said constituents’ concerns have been addressed by developers.

She told a local newspaper last month: “It has the potential to be one of the most exciting opportunities for my constituency both economically and environmentally.”

A Highland Council spokesman said: “The planning application for the development of an 18-hole championships links golf course and practice area at Coul Links Skelbo Dornoch has yet to be decided.

“Each application has to be considered on its merits and all views expressed will be taken into consideration in the determination of the application.”