Walking group fighting fresh plans for Coul Links golf course in the Highlands 'that will cross John o'Groats Trail'

A walking group has launched a petition to challenge fresh plans to build a golf course within an area of sand dunes in the Scottish Highlands.

Ramblers Scotland said it is "shocked and extremely concerned" over the proposal to develop an 18-hole course at Coul Links near Embo.

It said the plans would permanently transform the area, harm the natural landscape, and affect access.

The group claim seven of the course's holes would also cross the John o' Groats Trail, which would make it hard for walkers and other visitors to avoid interfering with play at busy times.

However, developer Communities for Coul (C4C) has said the golf course could "stop the destructive spiral of depopulation in the northern Highlands".

The not-for-profit company also cited a new socio-economic report, claiming the course would generate around 400 jobs once fully established.

C4C is urging backers to write a letter of support to Highland Council.

A similar planning application was blocked by the Scottish government following a public inquiry three years ago.

At the time of the decision in February 2020, Scottish ministers said the plan would have supported economic growth and rural development.

However, it was concluded that the harmful impacts of the golf course on protected habitats and species outweighed the potential socio-economic benefits.

Brendan Paddy, director of Ramblers Scotland, said: "We are shocked and extremely concerned that Coul Links is again under threat, just three years after a very similar application was rejected at public inquiry.

"I'm proud that thousands of people within Scotland's conservation and outdoors communities united with many locals to save Coul Links last time around.

"Sadly we must once again send out a clear signal that the nation's finest beauty spots aren't up for sale to the highest bidder."

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Sky News has contacted C4C for comment.

In a Facebook post earlier this month, C4C said the area is battling an invasive plant problem.

A spokesperson said: "People who oppose the golf course development deny invasive species are a major issue at Coul. This is simply a misrepresentation of the facts, as a walk over the links will easily establish."

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C4C said although NatureScot has a management plan in place, the golf course developer is "committed" to providing the money needed to combat the issue.

The spokesperson said: "This is a man-made problem and as a community organisation, we believe we have a responsibility to manage our impacts.

"To restore Coul Links is a large and costly job, demanding expertise, people, materials, machinery, finance and a commitment over time. But this is the way to save the SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) for our grandchildren."