LONDON (AP) — Sand dunes on golf course owned by U.S. President Donald Trump's family may lose their legally protected status after being severely affected by the course's construction.

Scottish Natural Heritage, which monitors the country's sensitive and scientifically important sites, said Friday there was no longer a reason to designate the sand dunes at Menie as part of a nationally important protected wildlife site. The designation is given to areas with rare species of fauna or flora, or with important geological or physiological features.

"We work with developers across Scotland to ensure habitats and wildlife are protected when development work is undertaken," said Sally Thomas of Scottish Natural Heritage. "Most of the time, development can take place without damaging important natural features, but this was not the case in this instance."

The drifts at the Trump International Golf Links Scotland were considered one of the best examples of moving sand dunes in Britain. They developed over some 4,000 years.

Friday's statement comes at the start of a formal consultation on the future status of Foveran Links Site of Special Scientific Interest, of which the Menie dunes are a part. The links were one of the "least disturbed and most dynamic" dune systems in Britain, which makes it important for studying the natural features of the coastline.

About a third of the special habitats at the Menie section of the Foveran site had been damaged, Scottish Natural Heritage said. It said that the remainder of the habitats in the Menie area were "significantly fragmented" and ecological processes were "disrupted."

As Trump International had planning permission, there will be no immediate consequences for the company from the loss of the scientific status.

But Friday's statement sparked outrage from the Trump organization. Executive Vice President Sarah Malone said the firm had spent millions on the care, protection and maintenance of the small area of site that it owns, with no support from Scottish Natural Heritage.

"All this government agency wants to do is score political points and undermine that investment, custodianship and environmental management," she said. "No other SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) site in the country has been afforded the amount of funding or expertise that Menie has and continues to receive."

Malone said the Trump organization had received more criticism than others in similar positions.

"Is it any wonder that inward investment in our nation is at risk with bumbling political decisions and unprofessionalism like this?" she said. "Many other landowners, who also have SSSI, and spend no effort or money on protecting them, have faced no scrutiny, input or involvement."

Government reports released last year in response to a freedom of information request had foreshadowed Friday's conclusion. The public records request, made by Bob Ward, policy director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, showed the construction "led to the direct loss" of up to 68 hectares (168 acres) of the 205-hectare Foveran Links site.

The golf course was completed in 2012 and is part of what the Trump Organization has said it envisions to be a larger project that could include two golf courses, a hotel and hundreds of homes. Scottish authorities approved the outlines of the project in 2008, though each phase will require additional review.

During the original approval process, Trump promised to minimize any environmental damage, saying he was "fully committed to mitigating the effects of the course on the environment."

Ward said the Scottish government should consider what happened at Menie when it reviews future building plans for the site.

"Mr. Trump was personally involved in this and did not keep his promise," Ward said. "This is a further example of him running roughshod over Scottish heritage."

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