Re-wilding site could become city's newest Nature Reserve

The former Waterhall golf course could soon become the city’s newest Local Nature Reserve, as plans for re-wilding progress. 

Councillors are being asked to consider making the 90Ha (220 acre) site, which includes the former Waterhall golf course and the adjoining land, a Local Nature Reserve and whether to allow full public access.

Cattle arriving

Re-wilding Waterhall is a key part of the council’s response to the Biodiversity and Climate Emergencies and contributes to the council's Carbon Neutral 2030 programme.

Plans are already progressing well, with cattle, from the National Trust tenants at Saddlescombe Farm, due to arrive to graze the site next month to help to retain and enhance the mosaic of habitats that already exist.

Education ranger

Carbon Neutral Funding has been secured to cover the cost of installing fencing, a Water Supply and ‘NoFence’ GPS collars for livestock while National Heritage Lottery Funding, secured as part of the Changing Chalk partnership bid, will fund an Education Ranger, interpretation budget and the running costs of the ‘NoFence’ GPS collars.  

A programme of public opening events is being planned for May. 

Support for open access

When the former Waterhall golf course was operational, members of the public only had permitted access to the golf course via a public bridleway and footpath. 

Since the re-wilding project was approved, public access has increased, particularly from dog walkers. Responses to the City Downland Estate Plan consultation and advice from the Local Access Forum and the Waterhall Management Group all show strong support for more open access around the city, particularly at Waterhall.  

However, this must be balanced against any environmental damage from increased use, particularly from large numbers of dogs walked on the site, especially those off lead.  

Protecting wildlife

Evidence has already shown that wildlife species, including dormice and adders, are decreasing following the increased use of the site by dogs off lead. 

Dedicating the site as Open Access Land would allow public access to the site, while giving the council some control of its use by dog walkers, by requiring dogs to be kept on a lead most of the time. 

Keeping dogs on leads

It is also recommended that councillors consider an option to include the area in the city’s dog control zone. This would allow a clearer message to be given on dog control as dogs could be required to be kept on leads at all times.

Keeping dogs on short leads while on the site, will help protect the landscape, wildlife and grazing livestock.

There are several nearby areas where dogs can be walked off leads including Three Cornered Copse, Coney Hill Woodland and Waterhall and Braypool Recreation Grounds. 

If the order is introduced, The Waterhall Ranger and Education Ranger will work with the public to explain the reasoning behind the dog controls and the importance of biodiversity in our landscape. 

Unique biodiversity

Councillor Jamie Lloyd, deputy chair of the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee said: “Waterhall is a fantastic site of unique biodiversity and we are delighted to be working with so many brilliant experts to enhance the natural habitat and preserve the species rich chalk grassland for generations to come.

“We welcome the support of the HLF and Changing Chalk, and with this support and the experts we have to help, Waterhall can become a haven of wildlife and within easy reach of all residents of Brighton and Hove.” 

Councillors will consider the report at the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee today.

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