The Scottish Government has released a policy note contradicting an earlier a statement by the Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham regarding protection for internationally important wetlands in Scotland.
This creates a significant concern for the wildlife-rich sand dunes at Coul Links which are currently threatened by development.
Our Chief Executive Jonny Hughes said: “In April 2018 Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said on the parliamentary record that internationally important wetland sites designated under the Ramsar Convention are afforded the same level of protection as EU Natura sites in Scotland.
“On the 22 January the Scottish Government released a policy note that contradicts the Cabinet Secretary in that it fails to extend Natura site policy equivalence to Ramsar sites that do not have dual Natura and Ramsar designation.
“This means Ramsar sites which are ‘only’ SSSIs have far less protection than they do in the rest of the UK. The practical implication is that Ramsar sites in Scotland can be damaged or destroyed for development if a ‘national interest’ economic case can be made.In England, all Ramsar sites have the highest level of protection and this would not be the case.
“This new policy was quietly placed online during a busy news day on January 22, just a few weeks before the controversial public inquiry involving the proposed construction of a golf course on a Ramsar site at Coul Links is due to begin. If this is a mistake and the civil servants have misinterpreted the Cabinet Secretary’s clear statement to Parliament, then the policy note should be removed from the Scottish Government website and redrafted before being put out to consultation.
“If this has been done deliberately ahead of the Coul Links public inquiry it is deeply concerning for anyone who cares about transparent, inclusive and fair policy making and due process in Scotland. The Coul Links case has already been compromised by ‘behind the scenes’ meetings between Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing and his senior civil servants which, many believe, has fundamentally compromised the impartiality of the Scottish Government.
“Whether this latest chapter in the ignominious history of the Coul Links case is deliberate dirty tricks or simply incompetence, there is still time for Roseanna Cunningham to do the right thing. Take down the flawed Ramsar policy note, repeat the statement made on this matter to Parliament last year and consult the Scottish people on the detail of how the policy will be implemented in the coming months.”
Fight out more about the fight to save Coul Links.