GUARDIANS of the New Forest have warned that the area could lose out on up to £100,000 after a banned pesticide was used on a golf course.
The Verderers have confirmed that vital conservation cash could be axed after a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) was treated with an unauthorised chemical.
The Forest receives £2m a year under the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme, run by Natural England and partly-funded by the European Union.
HLS money is used to restore and enhance internationally important habitats, but the Forest must meet stringent criteria to qualify for the payment.
Following an inspection carried out by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) the area could lose a fifth of its 2014-2015 payment as a result of Burley Golf Club using a banned pesticide on its greens.
RPA staff said that the club deployed a pesticide not licensed for use on a SSSI.
The HLS scheme was launched in 2010 after the Verderers and other Forest organisations made a joint approach to the Government.
Colin Draper, grazing manager for the Verderers, said: “The greens are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and this is considered by the RPA to be a serious breach of the HLS agreement.
“We’ll probably learn in the next few days if a financial penalty will be imposed. They could give us a stern warning instead.”
Mr Draper said the golf club had been made aware of the issue and was taking steps to prevent any future breaches.
He added: “They’re embarrassed this problem has arisen and want to make sure they only use pesticides on the prescribed list and properly record their use of chemical fertilisers.”
Burley councillor Ann Hickman, pictured below, said: “I was rather taken aback when I learned what had happened.
“It’s a great shame the club didn’t use the right pesticide.
“It could cost the Forest a lot of money. I just hope the fine doesn’t go ahead.”
HLS money has been used to fund conservation schemes and the modernisation of the Beaulieu Road pony sales yard.
The breach was discovered when RPA staff inspected golf clubs, campsites and other facilities during a four-month visit to the Forest last year.
Last night the club declined to comment.