Everybody knows about the prestigious golf club up on the Common, but how many also realise that Berkhamsted Golf Club has been deeply committed for decades to protecting the local environment?
Although there has been a golf course on the Common since 1890, historically the land’s huge rabbit population would help to sustain the area’s indigenous heather, gorse and fine grasses in a natural way. Local homeowners would often also use commoner’s rights to graze their sheep on the land.
But after the myxomatosis epidemic reduced the UK’s rabbit population by over 90%, our local heathland became increasingly threatened by shade and toxic leaf-fall as trees grew unchecked during the 1970s and ‘80s.
The heavily-wooded Berkhamsted Common is, to this day, Hertfordshire’s most significant expanse of heathland, and for the past 36 years Gerald Bruce, Berkhamsted Golf Club’s Course Manager, has trained his team to restore the natural environmental balance to the area.
This work partly involves reducing the amount of trees on the land – a subject that stirs both local and national passions, but on which the club has always painstakingly sought advice to ensure that the work is done sensitively and in the correct way.
‘The golf course takes up less than a third of the Common,’ says Bruce. ‘We actually manage all 500-plus acres of the land, and since the early 90s we have worked closely with organisations such as The Forestry Commission, English Heritage and Natural England to restore the heathland to its natural state.’
The club recently unveiled its latest environmental project: six new beehives beside the 15th fairway, safely out of the way of passing golfers. Any proceeds that the golf club makes from sales of Berkhamsted Common Honey will be donated to the Captain’s Charity, The Hospice of St. Francis in Berkhamsted.
‘Without bees, the planet would suffer disastrously,’ says Bruce. ‘We have wanted to establish beehives for some time now, and it is beautiful to see them there now.’
A more long-established feature at the golf club is Grim’s Dyke, a registered Bronze Age monument, which acts as an old-fashioned but still man-made hazard on several fairways.
More recently, many World War One foxholes and trenches also left their mark on the Common: they are signposted from the network of public footpaths, which criss-cross the area. Golf club staff maintain them, and encourage people to go and have a look.
Gerald Bruce is devoted to maintaining the whole area, and is approaching his fifth decade of doing so. ‘We are deeply proud to be custodians of the vast majority of the Common. For every acre of golf course that we maintain, we take care of over two more acres of non-golf land.
‘Everything we do helps to maintain the most natural-possible environment in keeping with our club motto – which is ‘Golf As Nature Intended’.’