Countryside campaigners fear for the future of Leatherhead Downs

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Local countryside campaigners were horrified to hear this week that Longshot Cherkley Court Ltd, the company that owns the Cherkley estate outside Leatherhead, is about to start applying a total herbicide to the wildflower meadows on Leatherhead Downs in preparation for the development of a golf course.The Cherkley Campaign and the Surrey Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) are fighting to stop the development of an environmentally destructive golf and leisure complex at Cherkley, the former home of Lord Beaverbrook.The campaigners are warning that the ecological damage that will be done by applying a total herbicide to the meadows will have a devastating and permanent impact on the area’s biodiversity. They point out that the Norbury Park dairy herd, which had previously grazed the land, had been removed at the end of January, meaning that this year there will be “no cows at Cherkley, no cowslips, no bees, no butterflies, no orchids, and no oxbow daisies”.

The Cherkley estate had the benefit of a Countryside Stewardship Scheme from 2004 onwards, and around £200,000 of grant money was used to revert arable land to grassland free from artificial fertilisers and pesticides, in order to create opportunities for an increase in the diversity of flora and fauna. Having restored the estate to its former glory with the assistance of Government grants, the Beaverbrook Foundation then sold the whole estate to Longshot Cherkley Court Ltd last year for c. £20m.

Brown fields will replace this rich pastoral environment before the heavy earth moving machinery moves in to re-sculpt the landscape and lay miles of water pipes to feed 1257 sprinklers to water an 18-hole course covering 83 hectares of chalk grassland on the North Downs.

CPRE Surrey director Andy Smith said: “Mole Valley councillors have had the gall to suggest that a golf course would enhance and protect this rural landscape and improve conditions for wildlife and biodiversity. But by applying the herbicide Longshot are wrecking the biodiversity of the Cherkley estate and doing potentially irreparable harm to the Leatherhead Downs. There is nothing at all that is ‘eco-friendly’ or sustainable about this golf course.”

Meanwhile, the Cherkley Campaign, supported by CPRE Surrey, has applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the grant of planning permission to Longshot by Mole Valley District Council.