Alresford Golf Club is a private members course, founded in 1890. Nine holes were taken over for agriculture to aid the First World War effort and it was not until 1993 that it was restored to 18 holes with the addition of a parcel of land to the north. In total, including the practice areas, the total curtilage now represents some 105 acres. The course is situated on chalk downland and has been designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) by the Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre and Unique and Superb by the Hampshire & IOW Wildlife Trust.
Large parts of the rough, such as the area enclosed by the 2nd, 3rd and 17th fairways, are rare ancient downland. There is good reason to believe they have not been ploughed for centuries and therefore hold many indicator species, which are not only endemic, but also vital to the entire ecosystem of fungi, insects, birds, and mammals, which depend on them. Other areas such as the areas between the 4th and 5th represent a less diverse area as this was created from arable land only 25 years ago, but nevertheless the numbers of species is increasing with each passing survey.
Maintenance of these areas requires regular and active management, as to simply leave them to lie fallow would invite colonisation by saplings and shrubs, such that over time the grassland with its rich herb diversity would disappear. Alresford Golf Club is committed to maintaining this landscape as an asset to club members and indeed the public who are able to enjoy the displays of wild flowers from the various footpaths that bisect the course.
In consultation with the Hampshire & IOW Wildlife Trust, these areas are now actively grazed throughout the autumn and winter by a flock of native sheep and in addition a programme is in place to remove saplings of invasive woody trees and shrubs by mechanical means. These actions replicate the conditions prevalent when the vast downland pastures of Southern England were formed. Grazing in particular, not only prevents the formation of grassy tussocks but, the sheep dig, aerate and fertilise the soil, so helping with dispersal and germination of the native herbaceous seeds. Although this regime has only been in place since 2011, the results have been significant and many observers have remarked on the quantity and diversity of the wildflowers. At different times of year there are impressive colonies of Cowslips, Rock Rose, Ladies Bedstraw, Dropwort, Toadflax, St John’s Wort and Wild Marjoram to name just a few. White swathes of Yarrow, Ragwort and Wild Carrot contrast with the purples of Knapweed, Scabious and the many Thistles.
Where vegetation is short, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Germander Speedwell, Violets, Violas, Vetches, Eyebright and Bulbous Buttercup can be readily seen.
In addition to the grassland areas, there are also several stands of mature Oak woodland together with immature broad-leaved plantations of native Beech, Birch, Hazel, Holly Rowan and Ash, which support a variety of woodland species such as Arum and Wood Anemone.
In total, the golf course contains over 180 recorded plant species of which 26 are chalk downland indicator species. The club holds a list, collated in 2013, showing common and Latin names. Many of the plants mentioned above, provide nectar for butterflies and bees, whilst some represent crucial food sources to support some of our flagship fauna. The Horseshoe Vetch for instance, is the principal food source for the Chalkhill Blue, whilst the much maligned Ragwort is similarly important to the Cinnabar Moth. There are also a number of areas where Nettles have been allowed to flourish, thus providing habitats for other butterflies such as the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell.
Being surrounded by mature woodland and arable land bounded by ancient hedgerows, means that a large number of birds are present. Of particular note are the flocks of Goldfinch and Yellowhammer, which are often heard even if not seen, and the Green and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers which catch the eye with their dipping flight. Of the birds of prey, Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and Kestrels are resident, whilst Red Kites are increasingly seen as they extend their territories South-East. As well as around 20 nesting boxes for smaller birds, there are three Owl boxes which were introduced in collaboration with the Hawk Conservancy in 2012.
As regards mammals, the presence of the owls points to a healthy supply of Rodents whilst Rabbits, Hares, Foxes, and Roe Deer can see seen, especially late in the evening and in the early mornings.
Overall, AGC is committed to maintaining strong ecological credentials and to this end will continue working with the wildlife agencies to ensure a harmonious balance between the needs of its golfing members and the conservation of the natural world.