Three golf clubs praised for their environmental work

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 19, 2011 14:21

Hankley Common, Beaconsfield and Royal St George’s golf clubs have been praised for their quality of ecological stewardship.

As the environment continues to move up the agenda within the golf club management sector, clubs are self-policing environmental standards with help from agencies such as the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI), part of a universally-felt need to maintain codes of practice to protect flora and fauna rather than introduce draconian legislation.

“Most courses have studied the species they need to protect,” said an STRI spokesman. But for those still in the ecological ‘wilderness’, there are steps that clubs can take to develop an environmental strategy.

The institute, for example, runs a dedicated ecology department charged with the task of visiting clubs, planning environmental programmes and then working with clubs on rolling them out.

Among a mounting list of environmentally well-managed clubs, Lockyer singled out such courses as Hankley Common, Beaconsfield and Royal St George’s for their quality of ecological stewardship.

To take just one example, Beaconsfield proudly proclaims that its ‘Eco-Rough’ is home to an increasingly diverse range of wild flowers, butterflies, insects and fungi.

“The rare pyramidal orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis, has been spotted on the course this year,” the club reported and urged anyone who has “the necessary skills to identify these and other items of interest” to join its ecological sub-committee.

Not only the environmental question comes into the equation, Lockyer went on. “It’s in clubs’ best interests to reduce their overheads by less intensive management procedures such as pesticide and fungicide application. They can save money and encourage the maintenance of the eco-system on course.”

Partnerships between the STRI and Natural England, the government’s wildlife advisors, have positively prompted change throughout the industry.

The then English Nature and the English Golf Union co-funded a £100,000 three-year sponsored project to be delivered by the STRI, the golf industry’s independent advisory and research specialist, to bring free ecological advice to up to 70 golf courses a year.

“Many courses actually have SSSIs [Sites of Special Scientific Interest] on their courses,” a spokeswoman for Natural England noted: “Examples include Royal Lytham St Annes and Royal St George’s, in Sandwich, Kent. Courses such as these want to inform the public and members about the diversity of wildlife within their boundaries, sometimes producing literature during major tournaments giving a hole by hole account of wildlife on and around the course.

“More and more these days, wildlife is appreciated, valued and assisted on golf courses.”

When Royal St George’s held the Open the last time before this year, in 2003, an estimated 160,000 spectators were able to visit a site that supports arguably the biggest population of rare lizard orchids.

English Nature backed a 36-page full-colour pocket guide to the wildlife on the course that alerted spectators to a skylark by the sixth fairway, a common lizard, brown hare and hen harrier at the ninth and pied wagtail, wheatear and spotted flycatcher on the 18th – not forgetting the lizard orchids at the first tee.

The three-year project has been completed but the work goes on at a quickening pace to advise courses on how to become effective ecological custodians.

STRI ecologists Bob Taylor and Lee Penrose travel the length and breadth of the country, laying plans for the management programmes that will encourage sustainable habitats.

When the project was announced, English Nature’s chief scientist, Dr Keith Duff, said: “Golf courses, contrary to popular belief, can provide vital green corridors and oases for wildlife amongst an ever encroaching tide of developed land and monocultured farmland. Often relatively minor changes to course management can deliver huge benefits to wildlife.”

Since then, the agenda has moved ever more into the European arena.

Golf Environment Europe, a partnership of golfing and environmental bodies working to promote environmental sustainability in the sport, is planning to introduce a certification scheme for clubs as evidence that they meet required standards of stewardship.

The scheme has far-reaching consequences for not only the environmental health of clubs but also their financial prosperity.

In the US, where the Audubon programme offers a method of certifying that clubs have reached a high standard of environmental stewardship, such a mark of quality can be a significant element in clubs’ ability to attract members. Golfers in the US increasingly use environmental credentials as their yardstick of choice.

Issues such as the chronic water shortage in the south-east of England help propel environmental matters into the public eye and swiftly move the agenda forward as clubs strive to become sustainable in their water requirements.

But taking a step backwards in the process, it is golf course architects that can find themselves bearing the brunt of environmental edicts, noted David Stubbs, writing for the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA) website on environmental issues facing golf in Europe. But their experience in this field can be “of great value”, he maintained.

He refers to some “extreme examples” of action against golf courses, including a water authority decree issued to Catalonian courses to cease using groundwater for irrigation with immediate effect and the reassignment of two long-established Flanders courses to other sites, despite them being seen as safeguarding undeveloped coastal habitats.

“These may seem extreme examples but they are indicative of a wider trend in Europe for tough, uncompromising regulations on golf, especially at regional levels,” adding that such actions are “evidence of a general ignorance of the practicalities of golf course construction.”

The issue of self-policing of environmental issues on golf courses is paramount to progress in the industry, believed Mike Wood, environment spokesman for the EIGCA and himself a golf course and landscape architect:

“The highest standards of stewardship only results when voluntary effort is added to legislative control. There are existing accreditation schemes for environmental stewardship on golf courses both in the UK and overseas. Architects recognise the value of these to golf clubs and golf developers and are pleased to promote them.”

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 19, 2011 14:21
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