Hundreds of trees felled at a world famous Scottish golf club which hosts the British Open have not been replaced after more than two years, according to outraged locals.
Two hundred trees were cut down on the south side of Carnoustie Golf Links in 2020 so that underground cables could be laid connecting the nearby Seagreen offshore wind farm to the electricity grid.
One walker who frequents the area where the trees were cut down told The Ferret that the environment there has been transformed from a “nature haven” into a “wasteland”.
Carnoustie Links is one of Scotland’s most historic golfing areas. It is home to three courses including the Championship Course which has hosted the Open Championship – arguably golf’s most prestigious competition – on numerous occasions.
The Championship Course is nicknamed ‘Carnasty’ because of its reputation as one of the world’s toughest golfing tests.
The trees were felled near the 15th and 16th holes at the Buddon Course – also part of Carnoustie Links – which describes itself as a “fantastic test of golf with great natural beauty.”
Managers of the courses, the owners of the wind farm, and Angus Council, all pledged that 1,000 new trees would be planted around the Carnoustie courses to replace those cut down. They also promised that 80 of the cleared trees would be “sensitively transplanted” to new locations around the links.
However, locals claim that no new saplings have been planted. They also allege that trees due to be transplanted had to be destroyed after some had roots damaged by golf course staff who tried to move them with a tree spade which was too small.
Angus Council – which owns the courses at Carnoustie – said it was “aware that replacement tree planting had commenced” at the links. It confirmed that the transplanting of trees had been “generally unsuccessful” and that there would be “compensatory planting” to make up for this.
The golf course management team at Carnoustie – which runs the courses on behalf of the council – said that the claims were “inaccurate” but declined to answer any further questions from The Ferret.
Seagreen claimed that “reinstatement work” was ongoing and would be completed by the end of the first planting season, which runs from October 2023 to March 2024.
Carnoustie Links first became embroiled in a dispute about environmental management in 2006 after hundreds of trees were cut down over the previous decade.
Back then, protests were led by Ally Donaldson, a local resident and former Dundee FC goalkeeper who walks his dog on a route around the course. He said he was “dumbfounded” by the removal of the trees in 2020, adding it has left an area of the route – near two ponds where he likes to feed the swans – looking like a “wilderness”.
He claims no new trees have been planted anywhere on the courses even though 400 saplings were allegedly purchased by the management team. These were allowed to die in buckets of water rather than being planted, according to Donaldson.
He also alleged that the course management team tried to transplant trees using a tree spade which caused damage to the roots and for them to topple over when they were replanted. “Instead of realising the tree spade was too small, they lifted 16 trees and again the roots were cut off and the trees were destroyed,” he claimed.
Donaldson added that birds used to nest in the trees but had now left. “What was a nature haven in the southwest corner of the links, with many indigenous Scots Pine and Silver Birch, is a wasteland”, he said.
Donaldson’s claims were echoed by fellow Carnoustie resident, Ian Wallace, who also walks his dog round the golf links. Wallace said there was no evidence of new trees being planted and branded the impact of the felling in the southwest corner of the course as “shocking”.
The cable corridor runs along the south side of the Carnoustie Links near its border with the Ministry of Defence’s Barry Buddon army training camp.
The cables will connect Seagreen – which is located 27km off the Angus coast and a joint venture between SSE and French oil giant, Total – to a new substation at Tealing. New energy installations are exempt from needing felling permission from Scottish Forestry.
But the forestry body did require five trees to be planted for every one felled at the site in order for permission to be granted, and these new trees also had to be maintained for five years, according to a document passed to The Ferret.
A spokesperson for Scottish Forestry said it does not control the restocking of Carnoustie because the trees were cut down under the exemption. “We would expect the local authority to satisfy themselves that any conditions of the permission are met”, they added.
The council is ultimately responsible for the development and maintenance of the courses. In 1980 it set up the Carnoustie Golf Links Management Committee (CGLMC) to manage the Carnoustie Links on its behalf.
A spokesperson for the CGLMC said: “Carnoustie Golf Links can confirm that the information within your enquiry is inaccurate. We have no further comment to make.”
On its website, the CGLMC say they “realise the importance of maintaining our environment” and “continually” ensure and promote “best environmental management and conservation practices”.
A Seagreen spokesperson said: “A suite of environment assessments were undertaken to support the planning application for Seagreen.
“Elements of the agreed reinstatement plan have already commenced and are being progressed by Carnoustie Golf Links on behalf of Seagreen Wind Energy Limited. All reinstatement will be completed as required by the end of the first planting season (October 2023 – March 2024).”
An Angus Council spokesperson said it would work with Seagreen and CGMLT to “ensure that the required replacement planting is provided when the development is complete”.
The spokesperson added: “Seagreen has yet to complete development at Carnoustie Links or on the wider grid connection. The terms of the planning permissions generally require replacement planting to be provided in the first planting season following completion of the grid connection zone.”
“The council is aware that replacement tree planting has commenced. Information submitted by the developer indicates that the transplantation of trees was generally unsuccessful, and that compensatory planting will be provided at the appropriate ratio.”
Photo credit: Ally Donaldson