Coul Links is an internationally protected dune system on the East Sutherland coast. It’s currently under threat from golf course proposals that have been given the go-ahead from Highland Council. We’re campaigning to save this incredible place – here’s five cool things you need to know about this place.
Five cool things you need to know about Coul Links
1. Coul Links is home to lots of rare plants and insects. These include Fonseca’s seed fly which is onlyfound in this part of north Scotland and nowhere else in the world!
2. Coul Links forms part of a protected area which is incredibly important for birds; each year over 20,000 birds return to this part of Scotland to winter here. These include ducks such as teals and wigeons, as well as wading birds such as redshanks and curlews.
3. The protected area Coul Links is part of also has over 101 species of lichens, the highest found for any coastal dune system in the UK. Lichens are amazing organisms which come in a variety of colours and forms. They may only be small but they are still very important, for example, they provide a home for insects and nesting material for birds.
4. Coul Links is triple protected due to the national, European and international importance of the habitats and species. It is one of the most protected wildlife sites in the whole of Scotland.
5. Over 9,000 people have taken action to stop this amazing site from being destroyed by proposals for a golf course. RSPB Scotland has been working alongside Buglife Scotland, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Plantlife Scotland, the Marine Conservation Society, the National Trust for Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust to help save Coul Links. Will you help us reach 10,000? To add your voice please click here
The Scottish Government has moved to expand an internationally important wildlife site in south Scotland. Isobel Mercer, policy officer, gives more detail about this welcome decision to address some of the damage inflicted on this important area for nature by the opencast coal industry.
Welcome decision for Scotland’s protected areas
RSPB Scotland were delighted by the recent announcement that the Scottish Government has granted an extension to the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area (SPA).
This site, which includes upland areas in East Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway, is protected by European legislation. It is particularly important for its upland birds, including hen harrier, short-eared owl, peregrine falcon, merlin and golden plover.
The SPA was badly damaged when two major opencast coal sites, Powharnall and Grievehill, were not restored after the Scottish coal industry went bust in 2013 and it transpired that inadequate bonds, were in place to finance the restoration of the site. Combined with a failure by the planning authority to properly monitor and enforce conditions and mitigation, this resulted in a loss of habitat within the designated nature site itself.
The Scottish Government have responded by coordinating a cross-sector partnership to address the significant environmental impacts on the site. RSPB Scotland are a member of this partnership, and have been working alongside Scottish Natural Heritage, East Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust to deliver a better future for the wildlife in this area. The decision to extend the SPA complements a package of wider measures to restore the site, involving substantial investment by the Scottish Government and a step change in East Ayrshire Council’s approach to monitoring and enforcement, to ensure that the negative impacts on wildlife and local communities are minimised as much as possible.
We must learn from these mistakes. Damage to protected areas must be avoided, and cases like this one demonstrate to our decision-makers why it is so important to ensure that inappropriately placed developments aren’t allowed to go ahead in the first place.
However, it is reassuring to see the positive action that the Scottish Government has taken to address the damage in this instance. We were particularly pleased that in her announcement Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Rural Affairs, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, paid tribute to the European Natura 2000 Network and the key contribution that Scotland makes to this international conservation effort. It is critical that the four countries of the UK continue to uphold this amazing network of protected areas, regardless of the outcome of Brexit. This extension is a step in the right direction.
RSPB Scotland Director Anne McCall welcomed the announcement:
“The extension of the Muirkirk and North Lowther Special Protection Area is very positive news and RSPB Scotland welcomes the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to the EU Natura 2000 network of protected sites for nature.
“We are pleased to have been able to work with the Scottish Government and other partners to help redress some of the damage caused by opencast coal mining on wildlife and to ensure the protection of hen harriers and other birds in this important upland area.”
Sad incident whilst ringing an osprey chick
We are extremely sad to report an unfortunate accident that occurred recently when two members of staff were ringing an osprey chick in the Huntly area of Aberdeenshire. A tragic error at the top of the tree led to a chick falling to the ground from the nest, resulting in the death of the bird.
In more than 50 years of ringing osprey chicks in Scotland, this is only the second incident we are aware of where an osprey chick has died as part of the ringing procedure.
The three-person team that were involved in this case are all highly experienced, licensed under Schedule 1 and were following the strict BTO Osprey ringing protocol to which all practitioners adhere. This heart-breaking accident has left everyone involved distraught and upset by the loss of this chick.
Ringing birds is a hugely important technique used all over the world for collecting information, including about birds’ movements, ecology, habitat requirements and migratory behaviour. Many ospreys have been marked in this way since they returned to Scotland as a breeding bird in the 1950s, and this activity has made a huge contribution to understanding their conservation requirements both here and on their wintering grounds in West Africa.
Ringing teams also regularly help birds by strengthening vulnerable nests, which may otherwise be blown out by high winds; removing fishing wire from chicks; and taking other dangerous plastic out of nests. All of these threats have previously resulted in osprey chicks dying. However, this in no way detracts from the impacts of this awful event and the distress felt by all involved.
A full report of the incident will be sent sent to the BTO Ringing Committee, and we will be taking on board any recommendations that may be contained in their assessment to ensure that the chances of such an incident happening again are minimised.