THE controversial bid by a business rival of President Donald Trump to create a world-class golf course in Sutherland has raised the ire of Scotland’s largest conservation charity.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has formally objected to the proposal by American billionaire Mike Keiser and his fellow businessman Todd Warnock, proprietor of the Links House at Royal Dornoch, to develop the Coul Links course at Embo near Dornoch on land owned by Edward Abel-Smith.

In a re-run of the long-running row over Trump’s Menie course in Aberdeenshire, Keiser, whose Bandon Dunes golf resorts are huge rivals to Trump’s golfing empire, has come up against nature – the NTS say Coul Links are “an increasingly rare part of Scotland’s natural heritage.”

Just like the Menie development, which was also on coastal sand dunes, the Coul Links plan has split the local community though the vast majority of the 17,000 people who have signed a petition against the project are from outwith the area.

The planning application for the course has been lodged with Highland Council and is out for consultation with responses due by 1 December.

NTS has joined a slew of objectors, including IUCN/World Commission on Protected Areas, Scottish Wildlife Trust, RSPB Scotland and Buglife.

The developers say 95 per cent of 200 local people who have attended consultation events are in support of the new course which they say will boost the economy of the Highlands by £6.7m a year.

The course would also create 120 jobs in the first year of operations and the developers say it could attract 20,000 more golfers a year to an area rich in golfing heritage – as well as Royal Dornoch, there are courses at Tain, Brora, Struie and Golspie.

The problem for the developers is that two thirds of the proposed course falls within the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Protection Area which is why NTS have objected.

The National Trust for Scotland’s Head of Natural Heritage Policy, Stuart Brooks said: “The Coul Links are an example of an increasingly rare coastal habitat of international significance. This beautiful and wild place should continue to be protected for the nation.

“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 it is the biggest draw for visitors, and this could and should be a positive foundation for sustainable economic development.

“The Coul Links and the dune heath sustain a wide variety of internationally important wildlife, including plants, birds and insects. They represent an increasingly rare part of Scotland’s natural heritage and it is our obligation as a nation to cherish places like this for the long-term in the face of calls for what might well be illusory short-term benefit.”

A spokesman for STRI Group, the project managers for the Coul Links course, said: “The developers wish to reiterate the nature and extent of the independent survey work undertaken as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process for the Coul Links project.

“The work has been carried out by independent consultancies, therefore all interested parties can be assured of its accuracy. The wildlife and conservation value of the site has been a critical factor for the development team.

“Starting at the inception of the process, specialists were engaged to develop a golf course that minimises initial impact and that will provide long-term biodiversity gain for this special site.

“The support for the project locally has been amazing. Alongside our commitment to maintain, protect, and enhance this special site, we are in no doubt that the project will bring both short and long-term benefits to the site and the local community.”