An umbrella organisation has been formed to help protect Horsham’s beautiful and precious green spaces.
The new forum, Horsham Green Spaces, was created in response to Rookwood Golf Club being included as a potential strategic housing site in the district council’s local plan review, although no final decisions have been made. Listen to a short interview about this issue on Radio Sussex.
Campaigners have warned that housebuilding at Rookwood would have a ‘terrible impact’ on the nearby Warnham Nature Reserve.
Sally Sanderson, chair of Friends of Horsham Park, said: “A group of us at the recent Kinder Living Home Show were chatting and realised how useful it would be to have a forum. All the Friends Groups face similar challenges in maintaining and protecting our green spaces. “We have each acquired hard-won expertise and between us we have a wealth of knowledge about conservation, horticulture, working with volunteers and the council. It makes sense to share this expertise rather than each group reinventing the wheel.
“When we learned of the threat (KeepRookwoodGreen) to Warnham Nature Reserve from the proposed building on Rookwood Golf Club – it became clear that together we are stronger. “Our green spaces are enhanced by the connectivity between them, and so are our groups. By sharing tips, resources and supporting each other we can ensure that the many benefits of the green spaces in Horsham town are maximised.”
Laura Thomas, chair of the Friends of Chesworth Farm, added: “I was shocked when I heard that a place as well established, environmentally important and well-loved as Warnham Local Nature Reserve could have its wider habitat threatened in this way.
“My thoughts next went to the Friends of Warnham LNR who work so hard to support this site. I know how our volunteers and supporters would feel if Chesworth Farm was put under similar pressure of development. The forum will give all of us a way to rally round and support each other in the future.”
The forum has no political allegiances and aims to:
• Create a network between similar minded groups looking after green spaces
• Encourage connectivity of wildlife and green and blue (river) corridors
• Protect green spaces
• Promote the benefits of green spaces
• Protect the quality and maintenance of the natural environment in our area.
Twenty organisations with an interest and involvement in the town’s green spaces are participating in the forum: Friends groups – from large sites such as Warnham Nature Reserve, to pocket parks like New Street Gardens, the Horsham Society, Transition Horsham, Horsham Green Gym and Horsham in Bloom.
Ms Sanderson said: “This is amazing. Since the first meeting more groups are asking to be involved. It shows the strength of feeling in the town and how highly we value of our green spaces.
“The more we co-ordinate the more effective we will be in protecting and enhancing them. To build on the connectivity we want to involve schools with playing fields, the cricket club, allotments, cemeteries – even Network Rail because the railway line is an important wildlife corridor through the town.”
Nigel Langridge, chair of Denne Park Avenue Ltd, commented on the vital importance of Denne Hill in this picture – even though it is privately owned.
He said: “Denne Park is joining the forum, because wildlife doesn’t respect boundaries and we need to do everything we can to protect and enhance the wildlife corridors.
“Denne Hill is critical as it joins up with Chesworth Farm, the Riverside Walk, the cricket field and the Downslink and beyond. It’s not just for wildlife – so many people have been walking up here during lockdown and really enjoying it.”
At the first meeting of the forum, the hot topic was, not surprisingly, potential development at Rookwood.
Although everyone recognised the pressure on the council to provide land for building, there was strong agreement among attendees that Rookwood is not the right place – particularly because of its impact on Warnham Nature Reserve which will be cut off from its wildlife corridors.
Peter Simpson, a trustee of the Friends of Warnham Nature Reserve, said: “Many people are not aware of the threat to the reserve, which is one of the most biodiverse in Sussex.
“If this development goes ahead, our wildlife corridors to the Sussex countryside will be severed, noise and light pollution will interfere with our nocturnal wildlife and the expected 200 cats will kill many birds and small mammals that live on the nature reserve.”
Many of the groups in the forum are supporting a new campaign group: the Keep Rookwood Green Alliance. More than 4,000 people have signed a petition opposing housing at Rookwood.
Morag Warrack, Friends of Trafalgar Recreation Group (FREC) co-ordinator, said that walking there regularly during lockdown, she talked to many visitors who were unaware that Rookwood might be built on.
She added: “So many people are feeling outraged about this, just as they are discovering what a special place it is.”
The Keep Rookwood Green Alliance will be running an e-campaign to raise awareness of what it argues will be lost if 1000 homes are built on the golf course.
David Holmes, from the Horsham Society, said: “This threat has shown that it is the responsibility of our generation to protect green spaces in towns such as ours, just like the Victorians did in cities. We all need to act to ensure our grandchildren have access to quality green space and that wildlife can survive in urban settings.”
If you want to join the Green Spaces Forum please contact Sally Sanderson email@example.com.
For anyone interested in finding out more about the Keep Rookwood Green Alliance can email firstname.lastname@example.org
To read more about creating your own Forum to bring together local Friends Groups we have a helpful guide covering the topic here: “Setting Up a Friends Forum“