AMERICAN developers cannot build a championship golf course on protected Highland land, Scottish ministers have ruled.

Wildlife and conservation charities said the creation of an 18-hole course at Coul Links near Dornoch would devastate the local environment.

More than 30 acres of the planned development was to cover sensitive dunes at the Embo site under blueprints presented by US businessman Todd Warnock and his backers.

Councillors approved the plan in 2018, based on the potential for local jobs – something which also won community support.

But the bid was called in by the Scottish Government, which has today refused planning permission.

The decision follows a public inquiry.

The project has been compared to Donald Trump's Aberdeenshire golf course, which was created on a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

Today Scottish Greens Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie, who was amongst the project's critics, said: “I am absolutely delighted that this ill thought out and unsuitable application has been rejected. It seems the Scottish Government has learned the lesson from the disastrous decision to grant permission for Trump’s course in Aberdeenshire after all.

“Coul Links is a spectacular site of environmental significance and has several important international designations. I welcome the fact that Ministers have made clear that post Brexit they will seek to maintain high environmental standards, they can be assured that Greens will continue to keep them under scrutiny in that regard in the long term.

“It’s important that the Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise now look at how they can deliver long-term, sustainable and well-paid work for the people of Sutherland, without threatening its precious environment.”

Planning Minister Kevin Stewart said: “Reporters have concluded that the harmful impacts of this development to protected habitats and species would outweigh the potential socio-economic benefits.

“This proposal does not comply with the relevant provisions of the Highland Wide Local Development Plan, and runs contrary to Scottish planning policy’s emphasis on protecting natural heritage sites and world class environmental assets.

“The Scottish Government has considered the reporter’s findings carefully and agree with the recommendation that planning permission should be refused.”