PROTECTED sand dunes in the Highlands are once again under threat from plans to build an 18-hole golf course.

In 2018, Highland Council gave the green light for developers to start work on the Coul Links golf course near the village of Embo in Sutherland. A councillor at the time said the “social impact and economic generation outweighed the detrimental effects that the development would have on the plant and insect life of the sand dunes”.

However, in 2020 the Scottish Government proceeded to block the application after a report found the development was likely to damage the sand dune habitat and negatively impact birds and insects in the area.

Now, just three years later, a revised application for an 18-hole golf course has been submitted by Communities for Coul – a non-for-profit company made up of local people seeking to progress the development.

The National: An informal path through the sand dunes near the village of Embo An informal path through the sand dunes near the village of Embo (Image: Ramblers Scotland)

Walking charity Ramblers Scotland has said it is “shocked and extremely concerned” that the sand dunes are at risk once again and has launched a petition to rally opposition to the bid.

It claims the latest plans would harm the natural landscape as well as cross parts of the John o’ Groats trail, making it difficult for walkers to avoid interfering with play.

Brendan Paddy, director of Ramblers Scotland, said: ““We are shocked and extremely concerned that Coul Links is again under threat, just three years after a very similar application was rejected at Public Inquiry. In fact, it’s so similar that some documents have simply been re-submitted, including some dating back to 2017.

“I’m proud that thousands of people within Scotland’s conservation and outdoors communities united with many locals to save Coul Links last time around. Sadly we must once again send out a clear signal that the nation’s finest beauty spots aren’t up for sale to the highest bidder.

The National:

“Please sign our petition to fight this appalling plan and stand up for memorable, quiet places like Coul Links, before they’re lost forever.”

The Coul Links dunes run alongside the Loch Fleet basin, which is classified as a Special Protection Area for birds. Part of the proposed course also lies within the Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI).

The applicants say the updated plans reduce the amount of land developed within the SSI by around 90%, accounting for just 1.5 hectares.

They also state that the path of the course has been changed in order to avoid the most environmentally valuable areas of the sand dune.

Communities for Coul have been contacted for comment.