Hitting the green

Golf courses – those in prosperous parts of England anyway – have increasingly become a target for the house building and land speculation sector.

Follow their “yimby” lobbyists on social media and you’ll be told green belts around London and other wealthier southern cities are mostly given over to rich people’s golf courses. It’s purely coincidental, of course, that such sites are pretty much the areas house builders fantasize about over the vintage cognac.

Enormous and reliable profits could flow from building large, detached houses on high-quality green belt land near prosperous cities. But such attractive targets for developers tend to be at hopelessly unsustainable locations, with owners relying on the large cars which go with the large houses.

While it’s true that many (not all) golf courses are preserves of the rich, occupy land unproductively and their biodiversity varies, development lobbyists would love us to forget that all undeveloped land serves a range of ecosystem services. Even if not producing food, it’s key to water supply, drainage, flood control, soil health etc..

And while many golf courses provide little social or economic benefit, lots could potentially offer a real opportunity to realise the national 30 by 30 ambition – enriching 30% of our land for nature, not the pockets of developers.

Such sites – undeveloped and given over to nature – could provide the sort of linked natural environment biodiversity needs.

The biodiversity of golf course land has been thrown into sharp relief by a decision by Highland Council to grant consent to destruction of a dune system near Embo in Sutherland for a “world class” 18-hole course, despite an officers’ recommendation and strong objections by wildlife bodies.

The developer, of course, says it would create 400 jobs at Coul LInks to “stop the destructive spiral of depopulation in the northern Highlands”.

“They also provide a guaranteed future for the wonderful wild coastal environment of Coul Links, which is currently sadly neglected and at risk,” it says.

That throws a weird new light on the words “guarantee” and “neglected” – the site is part of the Loch Fleet SSSI and the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area.

Opponents hope the Scottish Government will step in.

In England, volume builders are circling existing green belt golf courses near prosperous cities, salivating over returns from up-market, car-dependent sprawl.

But sustainable development needs careful, integrated planning, not a free-for-all.

Such sites – if left undeveloped and managed for nature – could offer the sort of linked natural environment biodiversity urgently needs.

Jon Reeds