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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