Local historian Kirsten Elliott is on a mission. She has started an online petition and is looking for enough support to persuade the local council to open the gates to Nature in two hotly-contested Bath open spaces.
The futures of both the Approach and Entry Hill golf courses has been in the news just lately. We’ll find out more next week about what plans the winning tender has for the Entry course and we know already that the Approach site is having a ‘rest period’ of at least two years.
I asked Kirsten to present her own case for a more natural change of use. Here is what she had to say.
‘In his New Year message, Sir David Attenborough hoped that 2021 would be a Happy New Year for all creatures on this planet. It was that message that drove me to create this petition because it seems to me that councils presented with opportunities to make our world a better place for wildlife should seize them with both hands.
At Entry Hill and High Common, Bath has three golf courses which have been closed throughout the pandemic, but are there people clamouring for them to be reopened? Apart from a few dedicated golfers, the answer is largely no. But that does not mean that the spaces should remain unused.
Entry Hill was already struggling as a golf course, requiring large sums of public money to maintain it, while the Approach courses on High Common have only been in profit once in the last decade.
All the evidence suggests that, although golf remains popular in some quarters, its popularity is declining among younger people, with a substantial decline in children aged 11 – 16. Also, it is primarily a male pursuit, in an age when many previously male sports are welcoming and encouraging female participants. Among registered golfers in England, 84% are male. So it can hardly be described as inclusive or family friendly, as its supporters claim.
Those of us who are concerned for ecology have serious concerns about the sustainability of the sport. Most courses are not wildlife friendly. They are all too often sterile places, where many courses use insecticides and weedkillers that are hugely damaging to the environment, especially bees. Wildflowers are regarded as weeds, even when they do not intrude on playing areas.
The industry protests that they are making steps to be ecologically friendly, but a close read suggests that they are few and far between and are just scratching at the edges. The use of water can be colossal and the land usage is unproductive.
So this is what I would like to see. At Entry Hill, a properly managed ecology centre, with educational facilities for everyone. School children could learn how to help and encourage wildlife, as David Attenborough has urged us. There could be courses for people looking to make their garden wildlife friendly.
It’s not as easy as it seems. Many plants are offered at garden centres as bee friendly, but have they been treated with insecticides which will have long term effects? Although I have a dog, I would like to see this area dog-free and with controlled access used by groups led by a guide. There could be areas dedicated to at risk animals such as hedgehogs.
By contrast, a wildlife area on High Common would firstly restore the common to the Georgian vision as Rus in Urbe – the countryside in the town, which set off their houses against an ornamental countryside.
By making this a wildlife friendly area with public access, and measuring and comparing results at Entry Hill, we would be able to see, for example, how much wildlife is disturbed by unlimited human access. So the two areas could work in tandem as an experiment for improving our treatment of wildlife.
Courses could easily be converted. Bunkers, the sand removed and lined with clay would make wonderful ponds. Removing the tarmac paths over High Common, and replacing them with soft surfaces like those at Primrose Hill Community Woodland would reduce water run-off. Both already have trees, but hardly any shrubs – and many birds nest in hedges and shrubs. And imagine a wildflower meadow on the slopes of Lansdown. One earlier Lansdown resident knew about these methods nearly 200 years ago. It was, of course, William Beckford. I think he would applaud this idea.
However, I would be perfectly happy to keep one course at High Common but one which uses all the latest techniques for making golf courses sustainable. That in itself could be an attraction, where golf club members from around the country could come and learn as pressure grows on the sport to improve its ecology.
I am aware that a declaration is soon to be made about an operator for Entry Hill. I hope it is not the plan for a mountain bike centre because it is the wrong place for it. The sports area at the Tumps on Odd Down has increasingly become a cycling centre. During the pandemic, even though it was officially closed, it was being well-used, with people simply lifting their bikes over the locked gates – and who could blame them? The Tumps are damaged as an archaeological site, so they could easily be made into a mountain bike centre, and it would sit well with what is there now. There is also plenty of parking.
What the pandemic did show was that many people, while locked down, have come to appreciate our wild spaces. All over Bath, open spaces were busy with people of all ages. At times, some sites could hardly cope with the numbers. The Skyline walk on the south and the Cotswold Way on the north have been discovered by many who had never visited them before.
Listening to Radio Bristol, or watching social media, you can hear and see people asking questions about a bird in their garden, or a plant or wild flower they’ve discovered. Let’s build on that. Let’s make Bath a leading city in improving ecology and doing its bit in restoring Earth to being a Perfect Planet.’
So if you think this makes sense, could you sign my petition to urge Bath and North East Somerset Council to create urban wild life reserves at Entry Hill and High Common.
You can find it here.