Sand dunes at Donald Trump's Aberdeenshire golf resort are set to lose their status as a protected wildlife site after experts said the course had "destroyed" the ecosystem, causing permanent habitat loss.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), a government watchdog, said there is no longer a reason to protect the dunes at Menie as they do not include enough of the special features for which they were designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
The Trump Organisation, which was granted permission to build the course despite concerns over environmental damage, branded the move an "utter disgrace" and said it was "politically motivated".
The SSSI designation is given to areas with rare species of fauna or flora, or with important geological or physiological features.
The damaged and destroyed drifts, one of the best examples of moving sand dunes in Britain, developed over 4,000 years, according to the agency.
“The construction has removed the vast majority of the geomorphological interest within the vicinity of the golf course,” SNH said in the documents.
Friday marks the beginning of a three-month consultation on the future status of Foveran Links SSSI, of which the dunes at Menie form part.
SNH said evidence showed permanent habitat loss following the construction of fairways and greens, and that the stabilisation of mobile sand "has destroyed the dynamic nature of the site".
Sally Thomas, director of people and nature at SNH, said: "The denotification of SSSIs is unusual, however in this case we have found there is no longer a reason to protect the dunes at Menie as they do not include enough of the special, natural features for which they were designated.
"We work with developers across Scotland to ensure habitats and wildlife are protected when development work is undertaken.
"Most of the time, development can take place without damaging important natural features, but this was not the case in this instance."
SNH said evidence showed around a third of the special habitats at the Menie section of the Foveran SSSI had been damaged.
"The remainder of the habitats in the Menie area have been significantly fragmented, and ecological processes disrupted," it said.
Following the consultation the remaining SSSI at Foveran Links are expected to be merged with the adjacent Sands of Forvie and Ythan Estuary SSSI.
Sarah Malone, Trump International Golf Links Scotland's executive vice-president, insisted the resort had spent millions on protecting the dunes with "no support, guidance or help" from SNH.
"This is an utter disgrace and shows SNH has hit an all time low," she told the BBC. "To make an announcement to the media before informing us, the actual landowner, shows how politically-motivated this decision is. What other SSSI landowner is singled out in this way. It's a stitch-up."
She added: "All this government agency wants to do is score political points and undermine that investment, custodianship and environmental management. No other SSSI site in the country has been afforded the amount of funding or expertise that Menie has and continues to receive."
The Trump Organisation has been contacted for comment.
Additional reporting by PA
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies