Golf courses fore wildlife

11 October 2019 | Posted in Conservation , Jess Price
Golf courses fore wildlife
Chalkhill Blue © Bob Eade

By Jess Price

Conservation Officer

Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) currently have a golden opportunity to restore a precious area of ancient chalk downland, protecting cultural heritage and a drinking water aquifer whilst providing public access and recreation. Will they take this chance, or revert to short-term financial gain over long-term public benefit?

In June, the Sussex Wildlife Trust found out that BHCC was discussing the future of both Waterhall and Hollingbury Park Golf Courses. The two sites, of around 300 acres within the South Downs National Park, are owned by BHCC, but leased out to a leisure management group. Sadly the dramatic fall in membership mean that neither of the Golf Clubs are viable in the long term. The current manager is losing money and doesn’t want to renew the lease when it expires in March.

Hollingbury Park golf course sits within Wild Park Local Nature Reserve, whilst Waterhall golf course is within the Waterhall Local Wildlife Site and of course both are within the Living Coast Biosphere and the Council’s own Downland Estate. So I was pretty disheartened to see that the officer’s report that set out options to the Tourism, Development & Culture Committee back in June, was entirely focused on maintaining the sites for golf in the future with little mention of their biodiversity value and potential.

I understand that finances are extremely challenging for Local Authorities, but given the climate and ecological emergencies we are all facing, this is a time for considering the long-term public benefits of decisions made now. Luckily some of the councillors on the committee from the Green Party also saw the potential and asked for an amendment. This requires officers to consider bringing the operation of both golf courses back in-house, with the option to convert one or both of the courses into a different type of leisure facility or environmental space.

This means there is now a fantastic chance to consider the true potential of these sites for both people and wildlife. An alliance of local people, community groups and organisations, including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, want BHCC to restore the sites, re-creating internationally rare chalk grassland and promoting community-led agriculture and free public access. But time is very short. An advert has gone out seeking a tenant to manage the sites either as golf courses or for an alternative ‘leisure, recreation, education or conservation’ use and we are very worried that if someone offers BHCC a good price, they’ll take it regardless of the missed opportunity to restore this valuable land.

We need to demand an open, transparent council that thinks about its assets into the long term. Listening to its residents and responding with positive action to conserve and enhance our precious Downs, not continue to erode this wonderful resource that gives us fresh air, wildlife, rich archaeological history, our drinking water and absorbs carbon dioxide!

The new lease will be for a minimum of 25 years, so this really is a once in a generation chance to restore a significant part of the Brighton downland estate.

The decision is potentially going to be made at the next committee meeting in November, so the Brighton Downs Alliance is working to raise awareness of this opportunity. If you live in Brighton & Hove, please let your councillors know that we want the Brighton Downs to be climate resilient and biodiverse, accessible and open for all residents and visitors to enjoy.

You can read the BHCC report, minutes and amendments from the June committee under item 12 here.


  • Sandra Baxter:

    12 Oct 2019 09:56:00

    Please restore these 2 golfcourses to natural land. As a busy city, residents need the South Downs around them for mental and emotional wellbeing. And our wildlife needs a chance to restore itself.

  • Steve Law:

    13 Oct 2019 11:43:00

    Wow wouldn’t that be amazing. Think how many trees we could plant!
    How do we put pressure on the council to make this happen?

  • Peter Whitcomb:

    13 Oct 2019 20:53:00

    I agree with Sandra Baxter and many others. The Hollingbury Golf Course is part of an LNR and as such should remain as natural land. It is a great opportunity to convert large swathes of prime chalk grassland and to plant/seed suitable larval flowers to encourage Chalk Hill and Adonis Blues and other butterflies. The fringes of the golf course are already used by dozens of species of birds to nest and feed. It is an opportunity that cannot be missed. Currently there is a rumour that there may be plans to build – for heavens sake no, no, no.

  • Lesley Goodfellow:

    13 Oct 2019 21:31:00

    I co-share an allotment plot at Roedale Valley Allotments adjacent to Hollingbury golf course. Since Sussex Wildlife Trust took over a plot at Roedale Valley and restored it back to chalkland we have had Adonis Blues and Chalkhill Blues breeding at our wonderful site in Brighton! Just think of the potential for increasing wildlife at the golf courses if they are restored to back chalk grassland. I hope the Council do the right thing and enable this to happen so Brighton residents can escape the polluted city and improve their mental and physical health through the enjoyment of nature here on our doorsteps.

  • Barbara Summerfield:

    14 Oct 2019 08:15:00

    To restore the golflinks to downland would be a brilliant thing to do for now and future generations , right in the town so easily accessible for schools etc

  • Elaine Norman-Davis:

    16 Oct 2019 09:33:00

    It would be great if these golf courses (green deserts) are returned to the wild. Ask Knepp estate (Isabella Tree) for assistance and advice. The downs national park is mostly a man made sheep and farmland desert. I walk there regularly and am astonished at how little truly wild space there is and how few birds and insects there are. This is a great opportunity to do something important for the environment. Grasp it with all your might!

  • Paul:

    16 Oct 2019 11:55:00

    I am passionate about restoring this land please back to its natural state…please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help achieve this!

  • Kate Duncan:

    16 Oct 2019 13:54:00

    It would be a missed opportunity not to restore the golf courses to downland. Please don’t limit your focus council to short term financial gain.

  • sandra chitty:

    16 Oct 2019 15:12:00

    As a local resident, parent and dog owner this is an opportunity to create a really amazing public space that our children can enjoy and use in the future. Brighton needs these spaces even more so as developement spreads across the city
    How about getting Varndean and Stringer school’s more involved as local schools and families would want to keep and develope more biodiverse and green initiatives

  • Mark Cameron:

    16 Oct 2019 21:27:00

    Likewise happy to help in anyway possible.


    17 Oct 2019 13:51:00

    A fantastic and rare opportunity to bring nature back to our local environment. Please let us know how we can help to push for this change of use. Our own little patch of heaven – what an amazing thought!!

  • Colleen:

    17 Oct 2019 16:15:00

    Please keep this as an environmental space… Brighton needs this “green” space to benefit the local schools & community. It is vital the space is kept for the wildlife too in an ever growing concrete jungle which is already way over the limit of toxic polluted air. Future generations will benefit from this too.

  • Tom:

    17 Oct 2019 17:39:00

    Is there a campaign or petition we can join to help preserve these sites for the future?

  • Phil Belden:

    17 Oct 2019 20:25:00

    Our public Brighton Downs can be crudely split into three:
    1. Public open spaces, where designated Local Nature Reserves & Local Wildlife Sites are, in the main, managed more sensitively for wildlife & public access. Here is found the last remnants of our internationally rare chalk grassland, along with its diverse flora & fauna – the good bits still maintained, with extensive sheep grazing.
    2. Intensely managed agricultural land, commodity farming for barley, wheat, oil seed rape & stock-grazing, where the council treats the land as part of its “investment portfolio”, maximising the rents charged to its tenant farmers, hence the intensity of food production.
    3. Formal recreation – same money-making drive, hence the recent advert to outsource the public golf course land for further potentially damaging commercial leisure activities.
    2 & 3 need a radical change of council policy:
    a To respect the fact that this is public land;
    b To properly address the problems caused by this intensive land use (our Brighton Downs is the most polluted drinking water across the entire South Downs due to increasing nitrates concentrating in the chalk, before then having our water rates pay to clean it up, so we aren’t drinking contaminated water exceeding the safe EU limits);
    c To tackle damaging climate change, by not managing the land intensely, conserving & restoring permanent chalk grassland, to lock up that carbon (as well as letting our maturing dense scrub areas develop into woodland), seriously helping to reverse our tragic biodiversity declines & providing for quality public access.
    You & I, all of us who care, need to write now, pleading or demanding this, to our local councillors.
    - click on your ward councillors’ name and you’ll find their contact details).

  • Lyn Sands:

    18 Oct 2019 17:14:00

    I agree with so much of the previous comments. Golf courses are just for the few and do not provide recreation or habitat for the many. Rewilding (read Isabella Tree’s wonderful book )will create vibrant green space for people and increased biodiversity of which we have already lost 50% . It is a CLIMATE CRISIS and we need to make some dramatic decisions to reflect this injustice and guard the future.

  • Sussex Wildlife Trust:

    24 Oct 2019 09:23:09

    Thanks to everyone that has commented. It is fantastic to see so many people are supportive of BHCC changing the way they manage their Downland Estate. The campaign continues and we are particularly focused on showing Councillors what a great opportunity this is for a concrete action that shows they are serious about their Climate and Ecological Emergency declaration. As Phil Belden said above, please do write to your local Councillors to let them know how you feel.

  • 11 Nov 2019 07:07:00

    In 2016 we took in the lease of Rottingdean Miniature Golf Course and Pavilion with a view to extending the existing Beacon Hill Local Nature Reserve (LNR) across the former golf course. It was clear that there weren’t enough golf enthusiasts to keep the business afloat and we, as local residents, wanted to increase chalk grassland flora & fauna and public access. 3 years on we are pleased to say that the Wildlife is thriving and our community really appreciates our initiative. We run and eco-education programme from our little club room and a Cafe Kiosk run by volunteers. We are very proud to have added almost a quarter extra land to our LNR and will continue our plans to extend the building into a 35 classroom with wheelchair access.

    There is so much potential for businesses and conservation groups to work together to conserve and enhance the wildlife at Hollingbury and Waterhall creating sustainable collaborations that respect our current biodiversity crisis.

    Please contact your Councillor to ask them to protect and enhance these green spaces for all of us to enjoy and benefit from.

    Atlanta Cook (Trustee)

  • Thalia wylie:

    11 Nov 2019 08:04:00

    Please restore these 2 golfcourses to natural land. As a busy city, residents need the South Downs around them for mental and emotional wellbeing. And our wildlife needs a chance to restore itself.

  • Mike Thorne:

    11 Nov 2019 12:15:00

    I think there is huge potential to highlight Hollingbury Iron Age Fort more, and to develop some more walkways and woodland around this really important site: it’s a bit of an afterthought next to the golf course at the moment, but as the new exhibition at Brighton’s Museum shows, it’s a very important site and part of deep history.

    I’m an allotmenteer at Roedale valley, which doesn’t mean I’m anti Golf Club, but there are times when significant parking in the site means that allotment holders can’t even get in, so there is inherent ‘conflict’ there in a traffic management sense, which needs improving.

    Having worked in local government I know what it’s like having to operate with 30% less money annually, but given Brighton’s so called greed credentials, this is too good an opportunity to be missed to perhaps increase the woodland and enhance the eco history of the site?

  • Gary:

    09 Dec 2019 10:42:00

    The golf course is already a haven for wildlife but is also essential for people.

    It provides a recreational activity which is enjoyed by young and old alike. To lose this golf course would be criminal.

  • Trevor Watson:

    10 Dec 2019 07:30:00

    I’ve walked this area for nearly sixty years. Nature Is under threat and climate change is real. Reduce the golf course to nine holes and manage sustainably, put the rest over to mixed woodlands and meadows to help protect our future.

  • Stephen:

    10 Dec 2019 09:28:00

    There are countless square miles of ‘natural’ Downland to use and explore and it is totally unnecessary to destroy golf courses.
    Hollingbury has a very healthy level of membership and useage. It is very poor on the part of Sussex Wildlife Trust to open their article with blatant in-truths in order to fit their agenda. They have gone very much down in my estimations and I will no longer support them as an organisation.

  • Steve P.:

    10 Dec 2019 17:15:00

    Shame on the Sussex Wildlife Trust for spouting blatant un-truths in your article. This golf club has a very healthy level of membership and use, contrary to what you claim. There are countless square miles of wild habitat around and nearby the course. You are turning a lot of people against you by suggesting this course of action who would otherwise be quite supportive of what you purport to stand for!

  • 12 Dec 2019 16:22:00

    The general public have enjoyed access to these facilities for over 100 years , it is a public municipal facility open to all and supporting those on lower incomes that can not afford the other “private clubs” in the Brighton area.
    Their is an element of ideological fantasy in many of the comments posted, as a “wild” facility how is it going to be managed ? Who will police and ensure public safety for any users recognising the very real risk of it being used a dumping ground for stolen cars and motorcross track , trust me this will happen if the golf occupancy control is taken away as well as denying young and old alike the opportunity to participate in and enjoy the social and health aspects of a respected sport.
    Hollingbury Park is well subscribed and entirely viable with season ticket holders users and green fees and public users , dog walking , cycling or enjoying the club amenities, to say otherwise is a mistruth.

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