The campaign to save Coul Links

Coul Links

In 2017, Ramblers Scotland first objected to a proposal for a new 18-hole golf course at Coul Links in Sutherland on the basis of the impact the development would have on public access and the landscape.

A core path running through the golf course, which is also the route of the John o’Groats Trail, was set to be crossed by seven holes, making it very difficult for walkers not to interfere with play.

Coul Links, lying just north of the village of Embo and south of Loch Fleet, is a globally important wildlife site with international, national and local designations for nature conservation.

A coalition of conservation organisations including RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, National Trust for Scotland, Plantlife, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and the Marine Conservation Societyalso objected to the proposal, as did Scottish Natural Heritage and a high number of individuals.

In due course, the Highland Council planning officers recommended refusal but councillors approved the application due to the claims made by the developer about the economic benefits the development would bring to the area. 

This approval led to a campaign by ourselves and the conservation bodies to persuade the Scottish Government to ‘call in’ the application and hold a public inquiry. This campaign was successful, and the public inquiry got underway in February 2019.

We took part in the public inquiry making a joint case with ScotWays and we were delighted in February 2020 when the Scottish Government rejected the plans on the basis that any social and economic benefits would be outweighed by the environmental damage that the development would cause.

Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy commented that he was hugely grateful and relieved that the Scottish Government had listened to the evidence-based concerns of environment, landscape and access experts, and saved Coul Links from this terrible golf plan. He added:

“I’m proud that thousands of people within the Scottish conservation and outdoors communities united against these proposals, which would have restricted access and permanently damaged internationally-protected dunes. The decision sends out a clear signal that Scotland’s finest landscapes, habitats and beauty spots aren’t simply up for sale to the highest bidder.”

We encourage people to visit this wonderful unspoiled coastal area of dunes, perhaps by walking along the John o’Groats Trail and enjoying the wildlife around Loch Fleet, while visiting the historic town of Dornoch.

Page updated April 2020.