Summer 2004

Conservation Management at Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club

Dr Brian Gill, Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club

The championship golf courses of the Sefton Coast are an important part of our national heritage on two counts. In the golfing world they are valued as examples of the unique British tradition of links golf and as such they attract golfing visitors from all over the world. They also have international significance as conservation sites because by virtue of their existence they have provided the economic resources to hold back building development across large areas of duneland. Nowhere is this better illustrated than at the Southport and Ainsdale golf course.

Mosaic of habitats Copyright Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club When our club hosted the Ryder cup in 1933 and 1937 it achieved fame in the golfing world because, in the 1933 match, for the first time the Britain and Ireland team defeated the USA and regained this now famous trophy. The course at that time was a classic dune heath links occupying land to the east of the electric line between the Hillside and Ainsdale stations. In the immediate pre and post-war period the course began to be eroded by housing development particularly in what is now the Dunster Road and Ryder Crescent area and this prompted the members of the Club to raise the funds to buy the land in 1964. We saved our golf course but we also saved 130 acres of dune-land from building development.

Until relatively recently the management of the course was driven largely by golfing considerations and apart from specific examples of tree planting introduced to screen the boundaries the rough was left more or less to manage itself. In the 1990s the international significance of the Sefton dunes was becoming appreciated and at the same time the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the sport's parent body became alert to the fact that essential links character of many duneland courses was being threatened by ecological succession to scrub and woodland.

dune heath copyright Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club For the last five years Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club, with the funding support of a DEFRA Countryside Stewardship agreement have been pursuing a programme of rough management designed to restore and conserve the dune and dune heath character of our course. Our designation as part of the Sefton Coast SSSI in 2000 also brought us into partnership with English Nature. Our intention has been to create a golfing landscape based upon an open dune heath, with sand dunes, heather, gorse and scattered woodland and as this landscape has emerged members have generally been appreciative even though initially there were some adverse reactions to the removal of substantial areas of scrub and woodland.

A future article will describe in more detail some of the challenges of carrying out restoration work on dune and heath areas and will hope to show how such work can mutually benefit golfers and conservationists.