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Coul for the environment

A practical solution for securing environmental protection

“My main personal concerns are the ongoing spread of meadowsweet and Burnett rose. The former will swamp all of the shorter stature, rare plants of the slacks and the latter will create an impenetrable, thorny thicket to beasts or ramblers. As a result, if the conservationists & ramblers fail to manage them, the meadowsweet & rose will dominate to the loss of everything else. So, there will be nothing much to conserve, but for some seasonal ‘duck ponds’.”

Dr Andy McMullen, Principal Botanist at Botanæco

What is better – an environmentally sensitive golf course or the status quo?

Communities for Coul are most definitely in favour of protecting the environment of the Loch Fleet SSSI. However we believe the best way achieve this is to build a golf course. Why? Because not only would the construction of the course be carried out with great care and respect for the environment, it would be a condition for any developer to put in place a fully funded Environmental Management Plan.  This would mean that the 1% of the Loch Fleet SSSI affected by the golf course would fund the protection of almost the entire SSSI situated to the south of Loch Fleet, 25% of the total.

To any balanced observer, this would appear to be a reasonable compromise.

Coul Links forms part of the Loch Fleet SSSI, which  was established in 1984. However, in the many years since then, an effective, fully funded environmental management plan has never been agreed or implemented. Why? Because there has been no money to do it.

Despite being invited on a number of occasions, the many objectors to the Golf Course have shown no inclination to help fund the protection of the Loch Fleet SSSI.  This is true of all the environmental bodies who supported Not Coul, including the RSPB with it’s 1.15 million members, £147 million income and £48 million in free assets.

And NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage), the Scottish Government funded nature agency with responsibility for managing the SSSI, suffers from chronic underfunding.

This long term neglect means the site is now in very poor condition. An old tree plantation forms a wasteland at the heart of the SSSI and, critically, a number of invasive species have been slowly over-running the protected dune heath. Gorse, bracken, birch, rosebay willowherb, and meadowsweet are all choking the links, ruining the habitat for the rare flora and fauna the SSSI designation is supposedly designed to protect. Without a fully funded management plan, the site will continue to degrade and will eventually be ruined forever.

Communities for Coul’s contention that a golf course can help protect and save a sensitive environment is a respected argument throughout the country. Over 200 of the UK’s golf courses (almost 10%) have been built wholly or partly on an SSSI. This includes 32 in Scotland. Close to Coul, Dornoch’s Struie, Skibo & Reay courses are all partly sited on SSSI’s, and this is one of the reasons they are so fantastic to play.  Royal St George’s on the Kent Coast (British Open host 2021) is sited on an SSSI and has been recently commended by Natural England for their environmental management, taking the state of the SSSI there from “Unfavourable” to “Favourable”

Old tree plantation in Coul Links SSSI.
Invasive birch and gorse in Coul Links SSSI.

The golf course will only impact just over 1% of the SSSI

This seems a very small concession to make to benefit from the jobs, economic prosperity and environmental benefits the golf course would bring, which would include:

  • The development, implementation and long term oversight of a comprehensive and fully funded Environmental Management Plan for all of the SSSI located on Coul Farm, approximately 25% of the overall Loch Fleet SSSI.
  • The restoration of 6 hectares of an ugly and out of context old tree plantation into dune heath
  • The inclusion of an additional 14 hectares of delicate links land that sits outside the SSSI within the Environmental Management Plan, effectively balancing the 14.41 hectares of the SSSI required for the golf course
  • The cessation of shooting wild birds during the winter months – currently legally practised – on the Coul Links SSSI
  • The provision of onsite environmental information to educate visiting golfers and ramblers alike on the flora and fauna of Coul Links

Spot the Golf Course!

We sincerely believe that constructing a world class golf course at Coul Links is the most practical way to ensure this fabulous but fragile environment is protected for current and future generations to learn from and enjoy.

Could the golf course be created outside the SSSI?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Extraordinary landscapes make it possible to create truly world class golf courses, and this is what Coul Links offers. If the course couldn’t be built on the site identified, (ie, partly on the SSSI) it is unlikely it would ever be built. Having said this, we will ensure that the course would only partly be built on SSSI land, and the most sensitive areas would be completely avoided.

All golf courses are not the same. Coul Links golf course would have a “light touch” on the environment with no importation of sand or earth from off-site and many fairways connected to greens and tees by boardwalks. The look will be natural, wild and contemporary, giving golfers a real connection to nature and the sea.