Walking bodies unite to fight controversial golf course bid

Coul Links

Ramblers Scotland and ScotWays will join forces at a public inquiry starting on 26 February 2019, to object to plans for an 18-hole golf course on beautiful dunes at Coul Links in Sutherland. 

Together, we will highlight the major negative impact the golf course would have upon residents’ and visitors’ enjoyment of the outdoors.

Inquiry reporters will make a recommendation to the Scottish Government, who will ultimately decide the fate of this precious coastal site. This process can take many months after the inquiry. 

“Coul is one of the few truly special places in Scotland, where
unexpected encounters with the wild are not only possible, they are likely.”
 - From a local resident's article on what Coul Links means to her.

Impact upon public enjoyment

The site at Embo near Dornoch has huge recreational value. It is a place to experience solitude, engage with the natural environment and enjoy the dunes’ wild, scenic qualities.

It is an unspoiled coastal site to the south of Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve, with a backdrop of the stunning mountains and seascapes of eastern Sutherland.

As well as the landscape impact of the proposed course, we have concerns about the impact on the current levels of informal recreation, and on Scottish access rights more generally. The network of low-impact desire lines through the dunes shows the popularity of the area. 

The public has a right of access to cross golf courses, as long as they avoid interfering with play and keep off the greens. The developer has drawn up a Recreation and Access Management Plan to set out how formal and informal access will be managed in future, but we are concerned about the worrying limitations on access it is proposing.

In addition to being popular with residents and visitors for informal walks, a core path runs through the site along the route of a former railway line. This path forms part of the John o’ Groats Trail, a new long-distance route from Inverness along the north-east coast which is under development by volunteers. The route isn't fully opened yet, but it is already growing in popularity.

The Trail has the potential to boost the region’s tourism, health and the local economy. Yet the design of the golf course means that seven holes will be played across this core path, making it difficult for walkers not to interfere with the game of golf.

Damaging nature

The area is subject to local, national and international protections due to its special nature, wildlife and landscape setting. 

Scottish Natural Heritage objected to the plans, and there is also a coalition of seven organisations working together to highlight the serious threats to the area’s biodiversity and wildlife. This includes RSPB Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Marine Conservation Society and Plantlife. 

We generally support the nature charities’ compelling arguments, which they will outline jointly during the first phase of the inquiry. 


In August 2018, the Scottish Government took the correct decision to ‘call in’ the application for further scrutiny. 

This decision followed Highland councillors voting in June 2018 to grant planning permission for the course despite their own planning officials, concerned residents and a range of environmental groups urging them to refuse the application.

We also sent Highland Council two responses letters of objection.

Inquiry statements

You can read all our inquiry papers as they are submitted below. All parties’ documents are listed on the DPEA website here

  • Our joint precognition to the inquiry.
  • Our main submission is here.
  • Our initial joint statement to the inquiry is here.
  • Our note on relevant policy areas is here.