The following article has been written for FineGolf  by John Nicholson Associates, the leading, independent consultantcy which helps golf clubs get their habitat and landscape management right.


lewes golf club,

The South Downs behind Lewes 4th green. (Click to enlarge)

The formation of England’s traditional open downland was created by the ancient farming system known as ‘sheep and corn’. On the lower, more fertile, areas the sheep would be kept in corn fields over winter so as to fertilise with their droppings, then in summer they would be released onto the higher downs to graze the excellent fine turf. This farming practice prevented the invasion of pioneer trees such as thorn and maintained the open nature of the area. Rabbits also grazed the downs ensuring that the fine grasses dominated and these finer grasses, unlike broader leafed weed grasses, could withstand the constant cropping that resulted from frequent grazing.

It should be noted that both heathland and downs are transitory ecosystems and if no management occurs then they will quickly revert to woodland. This occurs, firstly, through turning to scrub as pioneers species such as thorn will invade, to be followed later by high canopy species such as oak and ash.

Gog-Magog fifth green

If the quality of the ‘Running-Golf’ downland course is to be maintained, then it is essential to adopt a management prescription that replicates the traditional grazing regime that protected this fine calcareous grassland.

To do this, a method of cutting and collecting in the late summer is necessary to prevent both soil enrichment and the establishment of trees in areas of rough. Collection is essential because if any clippings are allowed to remain then these will leach nitrogen into the soil causing enrichment.

Trees and shrubs naturally fertilise the soil as they draw up nutrients from the subsoil then deposit them back into the top soil through leaf drop and subsequent mulching down. Legumes such as gorse are even more destructive as they naturally fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and deposit it in the soil increasing fertility and creating an ecosystem that favours the broadleaf weed grasses that are undesirable for golf surfaces. It is therefore essential to restrict gorse to zones well away from playing areas.

If trees should get established, the under-storey can also become further enriched from plants such as ivy and bramble which readily colonise, further increasing soil fertility and so the progression grows apace.

On many courses, either tree planting or natural evolution has created a situation where trees are now part of the landscape and can be used to form a framework on which a management plan can be based.

Nevertheless, care needs to be taken with the location of any woodland in order to protect the fine-grass agronomy and the open downland character of the course.

Do be in touch with John Nicholson at 0191 384 2556

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