A group of charities have stepped up their campaign to halt the development of a championship golf course on a protected coastal area.

The campaigners are calling on the public to take action and oppose a planning application for the 18-hole course at Coul Links near Dornoch.

The charities believe the plans would be disastrous for one of the last remaining coastal dune systems in Scotland, however the developers - businessmen Mike Keiser, Todd Warnock and Edward Abel Smith - claim their proposals will "enhance" the local environment.

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Herald View: A new round tees off on golf versus nature debate

Highland Council is currently processing the planning application, with a decision due by January next year.

Jonathan Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, one of the charities behind the campaign, said: "We would urge anyone who is concerned about the fate of Scotland’s wildlife and natural landscapes to make their voices heard by writing to The Highland Council.

"Coul Links is a truly exceptional stretch of wild, unspoilt coast, valued for its natural beauty by locals and visitors alike. It’s vital we protect it for future generations to enjoy."

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Mr Hughes also claimed that too many coastal dunes have already been carved up to make way for golf courses, citing Donald Trump's course in Aberdeenshire as an example.

"It seems extraordinary that this internationally important dune system is under threat from yet another golf course proposal.

"Almost a decade after the approval of the environmentally damaging Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, it is unthinkable that we could lose yet another irreplaceable duneland to a development which is clearly not needed."

Herald View: A new round tees off on golf versus nature debate

The links area at Coul includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) containing a diverse range of wildlife and geology.

The charity coalition, which also includes RSPB Scotland, Buglife Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland and the Marine Conservation Society, believes the golf course will result in the loss of this protected site and its rare wildlife and geology.

Campaigners claim many of the site's species, such as curlew, whinchat, and Fonseca’s seed fly, are in severe decline elsewhere in the UK and are unlikely to remain in Coul following damage to the dune environment.

Davie Black, of Plantlife, said the proposals would be disastrous for the site and must be "wholeheartedly opposed by all those who care about nature and heritage".

He added: "Coastal dune systems are threatened ecosystems across the UK and no more must be bulldozed to make way for sterilised fairways; already too many irreplaceable Scottish habitats have been carved up to make way for golf courses.

"The fragmentation of the dune environment which would occur if development is permitted would further imperil rare plants and the insects and other animals and birds that they support.

"It is essential for nature that Coul Links remains undisturbed."

Developer Todd Warnock said significant revisions to the plans mean that the course will only infringe on 14 hectares (2.471 acres) of the SSSI, just 1.1 per cent of the site.

They have also agreed plans to the fully remediate a felled tree plantation within the SSSI.

Herald View: A new round tees off on golf versus nature debate

Mr Warnock said: "We have worked tirelessly to design a golf course that's an improvement on the environment at Coul and the details of our planning application outline exactly that."

He added that the developers "respect everyone's opinion" on the proposals, but questioned whether the charities had read the full application, which was only published on Wednesday and runs to thousands of pages, before calling for the public to object.

In a statement, the developers said: “The developers behind the proposed Coul Links Golf Project have employed a broad range of ecological and environmental experts to assist in the establishment of a golf course layout that will have minimal impact on existing species, habitats and landscape features. The project will also protect the site from continued degradation through best practice management and commitments to large scale habitat management programmes.

“We fully appreciate the special nature of the site and are confident that the proposals, and the Environmental Impact Assessment undertaken as a requirement of planning, demonstrate that the protection and enhancement of the area has remained a top priority throughout.

“Through 2017, the developers enlisted STRI, renowned for their work in integrating golf into the natural environment, as project managers working alongside the existing project consultants to add further habitat protection and enhancement measures.

“Furthermore, an economic report relating to the project estimates that Coul Links would generate, in the first 10 years, approximately 250 new jobs and over £60 million into the local economy.

“The project team would urge all concerned parties to read the documentation supplied with the planning application, as this provides comprehensive details on how the site will be protected and how the local and regional economies will be enhanced.”