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ECOLOGIST James H C Fenton
* NEW * SCENES: Scottish Environment News All issues 1987-2017 now available to download free as pdf files.  An excellent resource, charting the development of environmental issues in Scotland over the past 30 years. Click here
The desecration of Coul Links (June 21 2018) Sometimes it feels as I live in a Third World county, but maybe this is doing such countries an injustice. In fact it looks as if most modern democracies are currently reverting to a ‘Third World attitude’ of “development at all costs” – although I am not sure the Highlands ever left it. It is as if all the grand words and feelings of the 1970s environmental movement, of sustainable development (sensu considering  equally jobs, community and the environment) and grand concepts such as the Global Biodiversity Strategy and the Aitchi targets, are being thrown out of the window. Maybe it has been brought on by the current concept of ‘austerity’, although compared the past we are all rich. The above diatribe has been brought on by the recent decision of Highland councillors to approve the construction of a new golf course within a Site of Special Scientific interest (SSSI) at the mouth of the Dornoch Firth, three miles north of the town of Dornoch. Councillors went against the advice of their own planning officials who, presumably, were merely advising them to follow government policy. The 2014 Scottish Planning Policy states: 195. Planning authorities, and all public bodies, have a duty under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 to further the conservation of biodiversity. 212. Development that affects a National Park, National Scenic Area, Site of Special Scientific Interest or a National Nature Reserve should only be permitted where: – the objectives of designation and the overall integrity of the area will not be compromised; or – any significant adverse effects on the qualities for which the area has been designated are clearly outweighed by social, environmental or economic benefits of national importance. It is an exact repeat of Donald Trump’s Menie Links saga, where millionaire Americans believe they can get their own way, brushing aside any relevant policy. At Menie, the golf course was eventually given the go-ahead by government on the basis, if I remember right, that the new golf course was of ‘overriding national importance’ and therefore it was appropriate to site it within Britain’s last bastion of defence for wildlife – the SSSI system. However, if wildlife cannot be protected within an SSSI, then there is not much hope for wildlife (and here I mean both plants and animals) in the future. The picture below, taken from Google Earth, shows the coastal peninsula where part of the course is to be sited: it can be seen that it is an area of unimproved vegetation (coastal heath and grassland), of a type that hosts reservoirs of native species which used to be common around much of the east coast. Obviously, because it retains its natural aspects, it will create a more interesting golf course than one sited totally on the improved fields in the south of the photo, so you can see why the developer’s chose it for their own selfish interest. It is not as if there are no golf courses nearby. The Royal Dornoch Golf Club hosts two 18-hole course three miles to the south, one of which is rated one of the best in the world. And there are numerous other golf courses in the towns and villages round about. Better surely to develop these, rather than risk saturating the market? It is not too late to stop it. If the Scottish Government is to retain any of its green credentials, then it must call in the development and turn it down. Habitat loss is the greatest threat to biodiversity on a global scale. The above decision by Highland Council illustrates how such loss occurs in practice.
A View from Argyll James Fenton’s perspective on current conservation issues Click here for previous blogs