Ariane Burgess MSP, Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands & Islands has spoken out against a misleading promotional video which used stock footage rather than local people to back a development on a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) in Sutherland.
Communities for Coul (C4C), which is seeking permission to create an 18-hole course at Coul Links near Embo in Sutherland, is supported by the same American billionaire golf tycoon, Mike Keiser, whose previous plans for the site were rejected by Ministers in 2020.
Coul Links has an international Ramsar designation and is home to rare bird and insect life.
The main version of the video – which has now been removed from the organisation’s website after the use of stock footage was pointed out by environmental campaigners and The Scotsman – was voiced by a local actor and golfer and made a number of claims including that the scheme would “re-people” Dornoch Firth and provide 250 jobs.
Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy said:
“While stock imagery has its place, C4C’s video leaves viewers thinking they are watching fervent local supporters of the appalling golf course plan.
“Instead, we now know they are models, who have been draped with text saying ‘show your support’ and ‘here is your chance’.
“The embarrassing video claims that all Dornoch Firth communities support C4C’s bid, despite a significant group of local residents fighting to save their internationally protected dunes.”
The area is arguably the most important dune lichen habitat site in the UK and also hosts rare juniper trees, the endangered Fonseca seed fly and is home to the red-listed dunlin birds as well as amber-listed teal, wigeon and oystercatcher.
At Menie in Aberdeenshire, where Donald Trump built a golf course on a SSSI, the dunes lost their protected status due to the damage caused by the development.
That course operates at a substantial loss (£696,000 in 2021) and noted difficulty recruiting staff in its accounts, with only 150 of the promised 6,000 jobs materialising.
Commenting, Ariane Burgess MSP said:
“This proposal will be a test of the new, tighter environmental restrictions introduced by the new National Planning Framework.
“Coul Links is a spectacular site of environmental significance and has several important international designations.
“It’s vital that Scotland maintains high environmental standards and the Greens will continue to keep local authorities and the Scottish Government’s decision making under scrutiny.
“While I understand the local desire for new job opportunities, we know these opportunities often prove to be far smaller than those originally claimed and tend to be low paid and seasonal as well as undermining the possibility of more sustainable, nature-based and climate-friendly opportunities in land management.
“We can and must deliver long-term, sustainable and well-paid work for the people of Sutherland without threatening its precious environment.”