Plans for an 18-hole golf course development in the north of Scotland have been refused by the Scottish Government.

Councillors in the Highlands approved proposals for the Coul Links course and clubhouse at Embo in Dornoch in June 2018, despite opposition from environmentalists and a recommendation by local authority officials that they refuse planning permission.

Scottish ministers “called in” the application by Coul Links Ltd in August, with a public inquiry being held last February.

A decision notice on Friday confirmed ministers had recommended such plans be refused with the site protected due to wildlife issues.

The notice said: “In terms of sustainable development, the reporters conclude that the proposal is consistent with Scottish Planning Policy’s (SPP) strong support for economic growth, rural development, growing communities and tourism, a key growth sector in the Scottish economy.

“However, because of the potential significant adverse effects on protected habitats and species at Coul Links, the reporters consider that the proposed development runs contrary to SPP’s emphasis on protecting natural heritage sites and world-class environmental assets.

“Therefore the reporters do not consider that it would contribute to sustainable development.

“Overall the reporters consider that the proposed development is contrary to the development plan, as the likely detriment to natural heritage is not outweighed by the socio-economic benefits of the proposal.

“Scottish ministers agree with these findings.”

The plans included construction of an 18-hole golf course along with the erection of a clubhouse, renovating existing buildings, a new private access to the site being constructed and car park with spaces for 85 vehicles.

Jo Pike, Scottish Wildlife Trust chief executive, said: “Today’s decision demonstrates that individuals can make a real difference by taking the time to stand up for nature.

“Saving Coul Links from development is a strong sign that the Scottish Government is committed to protecting Scotland’s fantastic natural environment, and that it is prepared to make difficult decisions necessary to address the urgent crisis facing nature.

“Ultimately, it remains surprising that plans for development in one of the most protected areas in the country were allowed to go this far.

“We hope this decision will act as a clear signal that protected sites should be just that, protected.”

The RSPB described was ‘extremely relieved and delighted by this decision’ (Alison Searl/RSPB Scotland/PA)

Anne McCall, RSPB Scotland director, said the charity was “extremely relieved and delighted by this decision”.

She added: “These damaging proposals threatened a site of global importance for nature and should never have made it this far.

“I am incredibly grateful to everyone who stood up against this application over the past few years – it’s been a huge partnership effort and inspiring to see how many people raised their voice in support of this amazing place.

“This is a landmark decision of international significance and shows that we can no longer put short-term profits above nature.

“There are many more suitable places to build a golf course and we would welcome the opportunity to work with the developers to find a genuinely sustainable alternative.”

Scottish Greens Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie also welcomed the decision saying: “I am absolutely delighted that this ill thought out and unsuitable application has been rejected.

“It seems the Scottish Government has learned the lesson from the disastrous decision to grant permission for Trump’s course in Aberdeenshire after all.

“Coul links is a spectacular site of environmental significance and has several important international designations.

“I welcome the fact that ministers have made clear that post Brexit they will seek to maintain high environmental standards, they can be assured that Greens will continue to keep them under scrutiny in that regard in the long term.”