Public land for public benefit

15 January 2020 | Posted in Conservation , Jess Price
Public land for public benefit

by Jess Price

Conservation Officer

Last month I wrote about the amazing opportunity Brighton & Hove City Council currently have to restore rare chalk grassland on Waterhall and Hollingbury Golf Courses. As part of the Brighton Downs Alliance, the Sussex Wildlife Trust is continuing to campaign for these sites to be restored and freely accessible to the public.

The Brighton Downland Estate was purchased by Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) over many years to control development, protect drinking water and biodiversity and to provide for public access. However, over the years the purpose of this public land seems to have been forgotten – land is periodically sold off to private developers, farmed intensively with loss of wildlife, damage to cultural heritage and pollution of the aquifer, and signs erected stating “private land, no public access”.   

The expiry of the lease for Waterhall and Hollingbury Golf Courses provides a golden opportunity to begin to restore our Brighton Downs, moving away from the chemicals and heavy water demands of the current management and towards concrete action to reverse biodiversity declines.  

The Brighton Downs Alliance wants to see full downland ecosystem restoration, community-led food growing and open, free public connection with our local heritage. This is completely possible. We only need to look at successful examples such as the Beacon Hub and Plaw Hatch community farm.  

Currently it appears that the BHCC's Tourism, Equalities, Communities & Culture Committee will be discussing the bids put forward so far at their next meeting on 21 November.  

We want BHCC to slow down. Talk to residents, talk to the South Downs National Park Authority and other stakeholders in the Brighton Downs Alliance about the potential for these sites. Work with the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership to create a long-term, sustainable plan which brings in revenue and increases biodiversity and other public benefits.  

The Sussex Wildlife Trust strongly believes that the decision BHCC makes over the future of these two sites will clearly demonstrate whether the Council was serious when it declared global climate and biodiversity emergencies. Will it just be business as usual, or will they think creatively and set a new direction for management of the Brighton Downland Estate, which truly delivers on the City’s environmental responsibilities?

Brighton & Hove Residents 

If you live in Brighton and Hove, please contact your councillors as soon as possible to let them know that you support the restoration of Waterhall and Hollingbury Golf Courses. Ask for BHCC-led, holistic management that conserves and enhances biodiversity and public recreation and meets the priorities of the Biosphere. 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. We want BHCC to:

  • Respect the fact that this is public land
  • Properly address the problems caused by intensive land use e.g. The Brighton Downs is the most polluted drinking water across the entire South Downs
  • Tackle damaging climate change and biodiversity decline by restoring permanent chalk grassland to lock up carbon and increase wildlife
  • Provide quality public access

UPDATE 15/01/20

Brighton Downs Alliance's latest briefing sheet about the future of Waterhall and Hollingbury Park Golf Courses.  We strongly believe that as currently recommended the proposals represent a serious missed opportunity to address the Council's declared climate and biodiversity emergency. This is in response to BHCC's Tourism, Equalities, Communities & Culture Committee TECC Report ahead of their meeting on 16 January 2020.


  • Paul Moore:

    01 Nov 2019 18:46:00

    Minimum step- optimally ecologically managed golf courses. Golf is a valuable part of life for many people and would be a loss to the community. Paths for cycling running and walking could be incorporated, too, especially at Hollingbury. Restricting outdoor leisure activities would be a terrible Public Health step. Membership still pays for course upkeep, but the Trust and other bodies set standards for ecological land management.

  • Peter Clarke:

    10 Nov 2019 09:55:00

    This is a great opportunity for Brighton and Hove City Council to follow-up on their declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency, with an inspirational project

  • Fiona Crowe:

    11 Nov 2019 17:25:00

    Rewilding all the way! We live just next to Hollingbury golf course and I’d love for this to become a haven for nature. I would also like for it to be reforested with native diverse tree species. There should be open access for families, children and nature clubs.

  • ken Sharp:

    11 Nov 2019 19:53:00

    These proposed schemes to let valuable leisure resources in the city wither and die are alarming in their naivety. In the abstract, I am sure that lots of people think that the promise of a few more butterflies is jolly super. However, I am not convinced that letting well established and well-tended open spaces run to wrack and ruin will achieve anything other than eyesores which will in time be felt fit for development. As for alternative uses, both courses welcome dog walkers, hikers and nature lovers, as well as encouraging wildlife with sympathetic management and agro-chemical policies.
    It is all too easy to jump on some cuddly animal bandwagon and demonise the golfing community as over-privileged land-grabbers. This is patently not the case. It is one thing for the city to promote an aspirational wildlife policy but it should not be done at the expense of its health, fitness, wellness and mental health remit. Surely the council has a paramount responsibility to encourage its citizens to exercise. The benefits of playing golf are well-documented: it leads to fewer and less severe chronic health conditions, prolongs life-expectancy and promotes a sense of purpose for all age groups, alleviating pressure on the NHS and welfare services.
    While the explosion in golf participation might have occurred in the 1980s, it does not render the benefits of the game for all players any the less relevant. If anything, the council should be promoting this sport and will inevitably need to retain its two excellent courses in order to do so effectively.

  • Polly Charltonharlton:

    12 Nov 2019 09:15:00

    I am writing in support of a public consultation in regards to the future use of both Hollingbury and Waterhall golf courses.
    I am aware that Sussex Wildlife Trust are proposing they be developed with increased biodiversity and sustainability in mind as well as remaining free to access for the local community. I am aware that projects like the Beacon Hub in Rottingdean are being developed with this & environmental education as a focus.
    I think these ideas make absolute sense in a time of climate crisis and disconnection from nature & would benefit both human, animal & environmental wellbeing & health.
    Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to support this further.

  • David Porter:

    13 Nov 2019 20:53:00

    Rewild the golf courses

  • Phil Belden:

    15 Jan 2020 15:03:00

    Gathering at Hove Town Hall Thursday 16th January from 3pm, ahead of the council meeting (4pm) to decide the fate of these two public downland sites.
    Petition plea on council website for wildlife and public consultation before consigning these precious places to “who knows what” now over 5,000 – please sign:

  • Jill Stean:

    22 Jan 2020 13:10:00

    As someone who walks with my two dogs at Waterhall and Holingbury golf courses and have done for over 30 years, it really is essential to keep these sites as places where we can continue to walk freely. The number of places that you can safely walk you dog off the lead is shrinking in Brighton and Hove as there are cattle and sheep in most dog walking areas, and places like Stanmer are now race tracks for bikes and motorbikes. Stanmer Woods are unrecognisable from the wood I walked in the last 30 years; little narrow paths are now gaping areas that you can drive a bus down. It would be so sad to see Waterhall and Hollingbury go the same way and the busy somewhere becomes, the less we see of the Wildlife.
    I don’t hear the Cuckoo or see the Heron at Waterhall anymore now, nor are there the abundance of Rabbits that there use to be, but I still see Deer, Badgers and Foxes when it’s quiet.
    In regard to the wild flowers; this may not be popular, but they have all but disappeared since the sheep have been grazing and are replaced with brambles that were not there before. The variety and abundance of wildflowers- Cowslips, Evening Primrose and many others are few and far between in recent years and the Blue Butterfly is only in the completely wild untouched areas where few people walk.
    These wonderful and precious areas are so important for it’s users health and well being. Dogs, like children, need to be able to run free to do what is natural to them, a trot round the local park or a lead walk round the block is not good for the dog or the owner. I have to walk with the aid of a stick and couldn’t contemplate lead walks, I wouldn’t stay upright!
    Many would say that we have the whole of the South Downs to walk our dogs freely, but that really isn’t the case when there are cattle and sheep around every corner.
    Keep these areas wild and thank you for all you are doing!

  • Steve Lawless:

    14 Mar 2021 19:36:00

    Is there any update on this?

  • Graham Oldfield:

    07 Apr 2021 22:18:00

    I did see 3 Red Kites diving around trying to steal dead mice from 4 Buzzards that had found them after a harvester had been over the field north of the dew pond in Waterhall. But pity the golf course has been left to degrade so badly.

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