Plans for a world-class golf course are hanging in the balance – due to a rare fly which only breeds in the dunes where the course is set to be created.
US golf entrepreneurs Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock hope to transform a patch of the Highlands into an 805-acre, 18-hole course.
But conservationists say it could damage the habitat of the Fonseca’s seed fly – which is only found in the coastal area near Dornoch, Sutherland.
The proposed site for the course is part of a special protected area which has designated sites of scientific interest.
Conservationists and local residents have launched petitions against the proposed course, despite the prospect of new jobs and tourism.
Craig Macadam, conservation director at charity Buglife, said the fly is restricted globally to a stretch of coastline near Dornoch about the size of 100 football pitches.
He added: “It’s an endemic species, extremely vulnerable to extinction.
“Recent survey work by Scottish Natural Heritage found that populations had dropped significantly since the 1970s.
“Its habitat should not be put under threat from yet another golf development.”
A spokesman for Scottish National Heritage said: “We’ve advised that surveys be carried out as part of the environmental impact assessment.”
A spokesman for the developers’ agents Jones Lang Lasalle said: “The applicant is currently undertaking an environmental assessment of the site and its surroundings with the objective of achieving a development proposal that responds appropriately to the environment.”
Gillian Emerick, from the nearby village of Embo, claims many of the local residents are against the course being built.
But she admits that there are also residents who have been supportive of the idea.
She said: “There was a bunch of people before the meetings saying it was absolutely marvellous and that there was no point objecting to it because it would go through anyway.”
Chicago-based entrepreneur Mr Warnock and his wife Liz have already invested hundreds of thousands of pound in Dornoch’s Links House boutique hotel.
Local politicians have already stated their support for the potential new course.
Councillor Graham Phillips said: “I can’t comment on any active planning application beyond the council chamber for risk of pre-judging it, but the concept of a golf development in the area is interesting and attractive.
“It would offer significant financial benefits to the area, especially if taken in conjunction with proposals to develop the Dornoch airstrip into a more viable operation.”