Gallery: Golf club faces closure over gorse row

AN HISTORIC golf club could close if controversial plans to remove gorse from Suffolk's oldest heathland - funded by nearly �100,000 of public money - gets the go-ahead, it was warned last night.

Craig Robinson

AN HISTORIC golf club could close if controversial plans to remove gorse from Suffolk's oldest heathland - funded by nearly �100,000 of public money - gets the go-ahead, it was warned last night.

The Trustees of Rushmere Common want to clear parts of the heath and allow heather and grassland to expand.

But Rushmere Golf Club - which has used the common for more the past 80 years - fears that removal of any gorse could have a devastating effect.

Don Ayre, Chairman of the Trustees, said the work - which will be funded by �99,500 of public money - will restore the heath to its original landscape and will be sensitive to Rushmere Golf Club's concerns.

But golf club general manager Bob Tawell and club president Terry Mills believe that 80% of the gorse could be taken away - leaving the course stripped bare of one of its most beautiful and integral features.

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They fear that this could cause people to leave the club and in the worst case scenario lead to its closure, putting up to 15 people out of work and leaving their 600 members with nowhere to play.

“Our main concern is that if the gorse is removed then it could lead to the decimation of the course,” Mr Tawell said. “If that happens then there is a real risk that the members will go elsewhere and in the worst case scenario the club will have to dissolve.”

Mr Tawell said it cost the club up to �150,000 a year to maintain the golf course and that it paid the Trustees more than �20,000 a year in rent.

“The golf club does a lot of work managing the heath and I don't think the commoners could afford to do the same without our money,” he continued. “There would be no management of the area and there's a real danger it could turn into a dumping ground.”

Mr Mills also said the club was concerned about the environmental impact any removal of gorse would have on the heath.

“All down the east coast at Thorpeness, Aldeburgh and Woodbridge gorse has developed naturally - why does it have to be removed? There are all sorts of flora and fauna that would have their habitat destroyed,” he said.

“We're not against the careful management of the gorse - that's something we would support - but the commoners want to remove it completely and kill it off.”

Both men were also concerned that the bid had been backed by a number of public organisations, including nearly �49,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

“The HLF have never been down to inspect what they're putting their money towards,” they said. “They are using public money without seeing what they are spending it on.”

Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Coastal District Council, Natural England, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Suffolk Environmental Trust have also backed the scheme.

Mr Tawell and Mr Mills said they would now be writing to Mr Ayre to register their formal opposition to the plans.

“At first we were willing to back the plans because we thought it was the best way to have some influence,” Mr Tawell said. “However, now we feel things have gone a step too far.”

Robyn Llewellyn, head of HLF East of England, said since the award of the grant it had been agreed that further consultation was needed with local residents and golf club members to ensure the project can move forward in a manner that will meet the needs of all parties.

The view of the Trustees:-

BY stripping away some of Suffolk's oldest heathland, the trustees of Rushmere Common say they are hoping to protect it for future generations.

Areas of gorse and some trees will be cleared to allow heather and grassland areas to re-establish and expand.

Over time it is hoped natural regeneration and ongoing management will restore an open heathland character at the centre of the common.

Don Ayre, chairman of the Trustees, said he was aware of the controversy surrounding The Rushmere Heath Heritage Project.

“There would be a significant part of gorse taken from the centre of the common,” he said. “We have been very sympathetic to the views of the golf course and have left some gorse to provide distance markers and identify fairways and other areas.

“The impact on the playing areas and the views from the golf course will be minimal. We would obviously be very concerned if the golf club's future viability was affected because that is not our intention.”

Mr Ayre said they had been in discussion with Rushmere Golf Club for three years and only decided to proceed when they said they would be happy to support the bid.

“I quite accept that they are entitled to change their view but we have tried to meet their expectations,” he continued. “The intention is to protect the heath for future generations and to provide opportunities for current generations young and old to learn more about why it needs to be protected and to help in this endeavour.”

He said he was willing to continue discussions with the golf club and added that there had been opportunities for people to air their views.

“We have had two exhibitions which were attended by 160 people, handed out around 800 leaflets to the housing areas bordering the heath, put notices up around the common and had articles in the local newspaper,” he said. “The HLF and other organisations would not have supported us if they thought the project did not meet their requirements.”

- There is a special general meeting of the Trustees at Rushmere Village Hall, Humber Doucy Lane, on Tuesday at 7.30pm where they will outline their latest plans.