The sand dunes at Donald Trump’s Aberdeenshire golf resort are expected to lose their status as a nationally-important protected environment.
Government watchdog Scottish Natural Heritage has recommended that Menie links be removed from an existing site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
SNH concluded Mr Trump’s golf course had “destroyed” the sand dune system, causing permanent habitat loss.
The Trump Organisation reacted by calling the move a “stitch-up”.
It said the organisation had spent millions on the care, protection and maintenance of the SSSI area.
SNH said it was “unusual” to remove an SSSI from the list but there was no longer a reason to protect the dunes.
Scottish Green party co-convener Patrick Harvie, who campaigned against the development, said: “It has ruined, destroyed, gubbed, the kind of natural environment that those paper protections were there to protect.”
Donald Trump officially played his first round at the Trump International Golf Links, north of Aberdeen, in July 2012, more than four years before he became US president.
It is partly built on Foveran Links – an SSSI originally listed as one of the finest examples of a “dynamic” mobile sand dune system in the UK.
Before the course was built, the dune system moved north at substantial speeds – up to 11 metres per year – across an area of about 15 hectares.
SNH warned a planning inquiry that the development would seriously damage the SSSI but permission was granted on the basis that the potential economic benefit would outweigh environmental harm.
Two years ago SNH concluded that the site’s special features had been “partially destroyed” with no prospect of recovery.
It said there had been some permanent habitat loss – for example, where tracks, tees, fairways and greens had been constructed.
There had been other habitat changes where mobile sand dunes were stabilised through the planting of marram grass.
SNH is now beginning a three-month consultation on the formal process of delisting the SSSI.
Sally Thomas, SNH’s director of people and nature, 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.”
Ms Thomas said SNH worked with developers to ensure habitats and wildlife were protected when development work was undertaken.
She said: “Most of the time, development can take place without damaging important natural features, but this was not the case in this instance.”
The Menie section of the Foveran SSSI comprised a range of special habitats, of which approximately one-third have been damaged.
SNH said the Foveran Links SSSI was a “very high quality example of a sand dune system characteristic of north east Scotland”.
It now proposes merging what remains of the SSSI at Foveran Links with the adjacent Sands of Forvie and Ythan Estuary SSSI.
Mr Harvie, from The Scottish Greens, said: “The damage we predicted has come to pass.
“It demonstrates once again that this development should never have been allowed to go ahead.”
Mr Harvie said it could never be acceptable for a “precious, irreplaceable eco-system” to be sold off for short-term economic gain.
He said the legal protection designed to protect the site were “torn up” to allow the development to go ahead.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “Scottish ministers approved the Menie Golf Resort application in 2008 in line with the recommendation of the three independent Reporters which was that overall the economic and social benefits of the proposal justified the adverse environmental impacts caused.”
In response to the announcement, the Trump Organisation issued a strongly-worded statement.
Trump International Golf Links Scotland’s executive vice-president, Sarah Malone, said: “This is an utter disgrace and shows SNH has hit an all time low. 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.
“Before Donald Trump invested in the site, SNH had little interest in the SSSI at Foveran Links and did even less about it, and has barely been on property since. Trump International funds a team of leading geomorphological consultants, ecologists and environmental experts and has spent millions on the care, protection and maintenance of the small area of SSSI in Scotland that it owns and yet SNH has offered no support, guidance or help.
“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.”