I reported last week on the controversial Coul Links golf course development and how the Highland Council’s north planning committee ignored the advice of their own planning officials. Now I’d like to highlight the environmental protections that should have had much more prominence.
As I reported last week, the site where the proposed course will be developed includes part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest – SSSI. However, as well as this protection it is also a Special Protection Area – SPA , which is an EU directive that is meant to force EU member states to protect the habitats of migratory birds and certain other endangered birds. On top of these two designations it is also a site covered by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. Yes “of international importance.”
What is the Ramsar Convention?
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, is an international treaty established in 1971 by UNESCO, for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is also known as the Convention on Wetlands. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the Convention was signed in 1971.
The convention came into force in the United Kingdom on the 5th of May 1976.
The Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.
There are three pillars of the convention that the signatories commit to:
- work towards the wise use of all their wetlands;
- designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”) and ensure their effective management;
- cooperate internationally on trans-boundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species.
In short, the UK government in Westminster, (as Ramsar is not devolved), is bound by this treaty to protect all sites designated as a “Ramsar Site”, and to ensure that they are effectively managed and protected. The Department for Food, Food & Rural Affairs – DEFRA, is the government department tasked with managing Ramsar sites within the UK.
Why hasn’t it helped?
I am interested in the response. Not Coul has contacted @RamsarConv in UK (administered by Defra) & Europe. We have not had much joy. Ramsar international wetlands in Scotland are presently only afforded what other protection they have, so Coul Links is UK SSSI & EU SPA.
— Andrew Weston Ecology, Music & Photography (@VisitGroatbury) July 1, 2018
As you can see from the tweet above, opposition group; Not Coul have contacted Defra for assistance but are yet to receive any help.
In my opinion they should have had a representative at all of the planning meetings to remind the councillors of the importance of this site and to reiterate the conventions responsibilities to them. A failure to do so, shows a failure to take their international obligations seriously.
At the time of this article going out Defra had not responded to my request for comment.
I myself, have contacted the General Secretary of the Ramsar Convention; Martha ROJAS URREGO, who is based in Gland, Switzerland, to find out if there is anything that the main body itself can do to ensure that, at the very least the Scottish Government “calls in” the development for a public inquiry.
I am looking into whether planning permission can actually be granted for this development without the UK government’s consent, as this site is party to an international treaty.
Personal Attacks and Further Investigations
Following my last Orkney News article on the Coul Links saga, in which I was merely pointing out that Highland Councillors ignored the advice of their own planning officials and several other trustworthy bodies, I have received some very personal attacks.
I have always been very open about my past and the struggles that I have faced with my mental health. When the initial attack came from no other than the Coul Links Golf twitter account, I pointed out my prior issues with mental health. This seemed to matter very little to them as, later comments across Facebook and Twitter and, some to my own email, were very colourful and derogatory.
This raised several flags to me as, if they were willing to attempt a character assassination on an amateur journalist, what had they done to more vocal opponents.
What I can say, is so far I have uncovered some very despicable behaviour towards opponents of the course, not only by local residents but by companies and elected officials too.
Due to the complexities in this I will be reporting in due course and I can say that some of the behaviour will leave you shocked.
Until the next time, take care and enjoy the summer holidays wherever you are.
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Is it true that the ‘true locals’ are all for this and only people complaining are in-comers?
Can you define “Incomers”please, this is generally regarded as a racist and derogatory term used by ignorant people who appear to have no understanding of the genetic diversity of the British Isles!!!
I would ask you to question as to where did your ancestors come from?
Remember we are all “Out of Africa” in the begining!!!
No Charles, that is not true.
So who’s telling porkies?
Charles there are plenty of local people who aren’t keen on it going ahead but since the community is so small many are too afraid to speak out against it. I have been contacted by several locals who haven’t openly objected due to the intimidation others have received.
The Highland Council planning committee themselves at the meeting that support is fairly split at 50/50.
Let me ask you a very personal and pointed question and I hope that you will not take offence, are you a native of the area or an incomer?
Does living 10 miles away when I was younger and visiting my grandparents there for years growing up and then living in Dornoch 1.2 miles away for five years count as native?
Plus for one year living within the Loch Fleet SSSI area count?
What the hell does it matter if the people are incomers or not? This is just the kind of attitude that is wrong in the area, that I have been warned of all the time.. I’m an incomer, but I’ve lived here since 2011.. My mum was Scottish, and my dad had Scottish heritage. Do we have to prove how Scottish we are or something to have a say? Surely the most important point is the land that should be protected, that is proposed to be developed. You should be moaning about people that want to build without regard for the environment, not at those trying to protect it.
My point exactly Heather. We are an open an inclusive country and this type of small mindedness just goes to show the attitudes of some people.
Imagine a prospective visitor saw comments like this? Not going to help.
Also American “incomers” with money are ok but people who actually live in Embo and the surrounding area are not. Hmmmm odd that.
Well, what really matters, is how much the site matters, for what it is – not who, or how many, are for or against it being a golf course, or remaining as a place open to all – including the wildlife.
I don’t know the ins and outs of it all – but…here’s my tuppenceworth. This site, is now open to all, and home to wildlife. A golf course, is only for those who can afford to join, and the land becomes a bland, empty world. Comparably – a lawn, weed-killer drenched, scalped once, or twice, a week, harbours, well, pretty much just grass. Leave that grass to grow to meadow, and you get all kinds of life there, more and more as time goes on.
Which is better for the local people, including children having somewhere to play, visitors, and…the whole world?
You can tell that I have a bias here, but…what matters, is how much that place matters, not the personal opinions or preferences of locals or non-locals. As someone pointed out – do we let the rain forests get destroyed, because they’re not near where we live?
I’ve never been to Coul Links, probably never will, but that doesn’t mean I wash my hands of what happens to it..
And, Alex it can be very hard, when feeling fragile, to stand up and stand by what you believe to be right. It can be very tempting to not get involved, to stand back, let things go by you and let things happen as they may. For those who find the tight-rope harder to walk, that can be very tempting. But, what’s the alternative? To say “I’m all-right Jack. I’m safe.” And leave it to others to take action? If that’s not in your nature, that’s not an option. And so, we balance along the tightrope, wobbling a bit along the way, especially if others shake the rope to try to make us fall. But to sit on the rope, mid-way and say “Here I’ll stay – no one can reach me here.” Well, what kind of life is that? Tempting though it can be at times.
Keep on keeping on, Alex, and I trust that you have a ‘balancing pole’, to help when things get wobbly. You could see the many supporters you have for your campaign as just that – your balancing pole.
For some reason, it can feel as though one piece of negative behaviour, outweighs tens of examples of positive, but, please, try to hold on to the positive. Remind yourself of the support, and the rights of what your aiming for. Hold on to the positive, and keep on keeping on.
As to those who are attacking Alex on the grounds of his history of psychological problems – shame on you. Remember that this kind of problem can affect anyone, at any time.
Have some compassion, and confine your campaign to the facts of the case, not the past troubles of your opponent.
Reading the exchange between Alex and Charles….I repeat…….
All this talk of ‘locals’ is ridiculous. Just because you own or rent a property in a certain area does not give you ownership of the entire flora and fauna, beach, woodland etc in the area. I do not live in Brazil however I still feel a responsibility for the rainforest like wise the polar regions. We are not owners simply caretakers for a short while, and as such have a responsibility to preserve and protect areas of special scenic/ scientific interest.
However money talks, it is not a local but a very wealthy American business man who is behind this and many other money making concerns in this area. Think Trump and Turnberry. A man who is clearly used to getting his own way. Buying up his little piece of Scotland for his own use.
Any group, organisation or individual who resorts to name calling , bullying or any other method of intimidation has to be suspect so to their motives (I am truly sorry you have been subjected to a personal attack for trying to report on this matter) Again think Trump and Turnberry.
Regarding the ‘need’ for this course can I remind readers there are courses all down the East coast. Brora, Golspie, Dornoch, Tain; is another one really necessary?. An elitist, expensive hobby. I can also assure readers, where the ability to walk or play in the area of a golf course may be available you do run the risk of a smack in the head from an errant ball.
This course may well provide jobs for ‘locals’ and potentially bring more money into the general area. Although I suspect the golfers will stay and eat in the accommodation already owned by this business man and the elitist club will continue to thrive.
I do live in the area, I had no opinion on this development however the manner in which the whole debacle is being conducted is abhorrent to me. The blatant disregard for conservation and the findings of wildlife trusts etc. Money and business bulldozing across the country side. Again think Trump and Turnberry. And the bullying of opposition cloaked in the smug assurance’ I am right because I own a property in the area.’ is disgusting behaviour.
The machinery is already in place. Literally.
As for the vocal ‘locals’ their property prices will rise and they can all retire to an unspoiled piece of countryside…….
I have found this entire debate interesting, as the area in question is one that I enjoy walking on, the wildlife in the area is second to none. Plenty seals, seabirds and always otters. How many of the latter will remain once the destruction of the habitat begins is hard to say.
At present, if you travel from North to South, there are coastal golf courses at Brora, then Golspie, which travels all the way down to Loch Fleet. There is then a slight gap where Coul Links is. You then meet the village of Embo, abutting this is the Royal Dornoch course, then the Struie course at Royal Dornoch, which runs down to the Dornoch Firth. On the landward side of the Dornoch bridge you have Skibo Golf Course and the Southern banks of the Firth is Tain.
Currently a total of 6 Golf Courses in 23 miles of the A9.
I can not see what the advantage of yet another golf course would be set against the destruction of the last remaining substantial piece of coast line.
The fact that the Highland Council planning committee have twice gone against their own advisors’ recommendations just makes you wonder exactly what money buys you these days.
Yesterday evening, ‘The One show’ featured an item about the proposed golf course. The rich man who wants to make the golf course, is very charming. In his manner, he reminds me somewhat of David Cameron – remember David Cameron?
He is also either mis-informed himself, or is attempting to mis-inform. He says that the area will be better off under his management, as, at present, it is not ‘managed’ at all. Someone pointed out that wild places – aren’t managed – they are – wild places.
The programme will still be accessible on BBC iPlayer – have a look and see what you think.
(Fiona – using the magic of TON technology, could you spread this out further? Tarr)
Interestingly enough, the top story on the BBC Scotland site this morning is the destruction of the SSSI when a golf course was built on sand dunes in Menie.
SNH stating that they may have to downgrade the area from an SSSI due to the damage.
A lesson to be learned?
I just realised – maybe I should make it clear – I know that some management is needed – we have our wildflower meadow strimmed once a year, or it would be just rank ‘cockspur’ grass and dockens. As it is, the variety of plants and critters, just expands and expands, changing all the time – things arrive, things disappear – how it should be – wild – works for itself, when, mostly, left to itself.
I think the golf course man’s idea of ‘managed’ is a bit more drastic than that!