Protected sand dunes to lose special status after environmental damage by Trump golf course

The announcement last week by Scottish Natural Heritage that it intends to strip a protected area of sand dunes of its special status is further evidence that Donald Trump does not keep his promises on the environment.

The Foveran Links Site of Special Scientific Interest is set to suffer “partial denotification” because of destruction caused to it by the Trump Estate golf course at Menie in Aberdeenshire.

The golf course is owned by Trump International Golf Links Scotland, whose parent company is the Trump Organization. Donald Trump handed over the running of the company to his sons, Eric and Don Junior, when he became President in January 2017.

Mr Trump was the driving force behind the creation of the golf course, which is located near to the small town of Balmedie, a few miles north of Aberdeen on the edge of the North Sea.

Foveran Links received its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1984 for both its biological and geological features. Its citation notes: “The site is of exceptional importance for the study of a wide variety of coastal landforms and processes and its value is enhanced by the availability of extensive research results in other disciplines which provide much additional and complementary evidence relevant to solving a broad range of gemorphological [sic] problems”.

Scottish Natural Heritage revealed last year that its inspectors had decided that the damage to the Site is now so great that it should be officially described as “partially destroyed”.

Last July, I wrote to Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in the Scottish Government, to ask her to investigate whether the law had been broken because of the harm that had happened to the legally-protected Site of Special Scientific Interest. But her office declined to do so, arguing that it was a matter for Aberdeenshire Council.

The original application to build the 18-hole golf course and associated amenities was first submitted in 2006. It sparked protests from local residents whose struggles were captured in the film ‘You’ve Been Trumped’.

The Scottish Government called in the decision about the golf course and a public inquiry was launched. Mr Trump told the inquiry that he was “fully committed to mitigating the effects of the course on the environment”.

He also pledged that he would establish the Menie (Links) Environment Management Advisory Group to “ensure that any environmental effects are minimized”.

However, Mr Trump unilaterally dissolved the group in 2013, and refused to reinstate it despite protests from Aberdeenshire Council, which had granted permission for the development.

The public inquiry noted that the golf course was likely to cause severe damage to the Site of Special Scientific Interest, despite Mr Trump’s assurance that “preserving the sanctity and beauty of the dunes is of great importance to me”.

But Scottish Natural Heritage has now concluded that “the combined loss and damage represents 11% of the total SSSI and 15% of the sand dune habitat”.

The plan to remove the Site’s protected status could put it in even more danger from a proposed new development by Trump International Golf Links Ltd.

In 2015, Mr Trump’s company submitted an application to Aberdeenshire Council to construct another 18-hole golf course.

In its assessment of the application, Scottish Natural Heritage warned that the plans might lead to further destruction of the Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The edges of the new golf course would be so close to the Site that any additional defences that might be needed to protect it would impinge on the sand dunes.

The Council is currently considering applications for both the new golf course and the construction of 550 houses and shops.

The original golf course was given the go-ahead in November 2008 because Scottish ministers decided that the local economic benefits outweighed the costs, including damage to the Site of Special Scientific Interest. Mr Trump promised the creation of new jobs for local people.

The accounts filed at Companies House by Trump International Golf Links Scotland reveal that it has lost more than £1 million each year since 2012.

Mr Trump is fond of highlighting his Scottish ancestry and a section of the golf course’s website is dedicated to the family history of his mother, who was born on Stornoway.

Yet his trashing of the Foveran Links Site of Special Scientific Interest shows a singular lack of respect for Scotland’s environment and natural heritage.

As a Fellow of the Geological Society and the Royal Geographical Society, I will be urging Scottish Natural Heritage to stand firm and prevent Mr Trump’s legacy of environmental destruction from spreading even further.

 

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.