How Hankley Common GC has maintained the heather on its golf course

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 18, 2013 16:58

How Hankley Common GC has maintained the heather on its golf course

“It is always great to hear and read the results of greenkeepers’ endeavours in respect of their ecological management work and one club that has never failed to impress me in this area is Hankley Common. Many greenkeepers may regard Hankley as a ‘gem of a course’ that is fortunate enough to have been set in beautiful surroundings. This is true, but the course remains attractive due to the effective management of the heath by Gareth Roberts and his team. They spend significant periods of time pulling and chemically treating scrub cutting, managing heather and extending the heathland resource by making it an integral feature of the playing experience.

“Heather turfing is well practised at Hankley where the greenstaff collect turves and relay them around tee surrounds and the backs of the greens. The carries are also managed to control amenity grasses and extend the amount of heath. One of the most impressive aspects of the work at Hankley is just how far ‘off line’ management is undertaken; this is several hundred metres in places and ensures the heath is conserved. It is no surprise having seen the ecological management at Hankley Common that they are several time winners of the Golf Environment Awards, most recently winning the award for the Southern Region in 2012.” Bob Taylor, head of ecology and environment at the STRI

Heather managerment at Hankley Common Golf Club

by Gareth Roberts, course manager

Management of heather on golf courses over the past few years has turned around from just maintaining the heath to a more proactive approach of heath creation, expansion and proactive conservation. The increase of traffic over the courses and the effects of climate change, have all added to a steady progression towards the loss of heather over the years.

Over the past 15 years, here at Hankley, we have developed a number of practices in which we have certainly helped to prevent further heather loss.  Controlling where golf traffic is permitted, by the use of physical barriers such as low level wooden rails down either side of pathways, has helped prevent multiple paths from developing through areas of heather. The use of natural birch and pine fencing also demonstrates a good use of regeneration, which is a practice we also continually employ to keep down the competition of regenerated pine and birch. The process of the latter involves cutting and removing all the foliage from areas of mature heather or similarly where the heather is being severely compromised or is reaching the end of its life cycle. We carry this out with the use of a forage harvester, stripping everything back to ground level, allowing the heather plants to develop fresh new growth. These areas of new growth will also, in the early couple of years, help attract woodlarks, which like to nest in closely mown areas of heather.

16-17 heather 1The areas of heather that we cut annually are the carryies in front of the tees, areas that frame each side of the hole and so on. These areas we maintain to a height of approximately seven inches. This allows us to keep the heather in the ‘building’ stage of growth, allowing fresh new growth to develop each year but preventing it from becoming too long and woody. The areas outside of these we top off using a tractor-mounted rotary mower which we cut at around ten to 12 inches. This also helps prevent these areas from becoming long and woody, but does allow more of a canopy and protection to develop on these outer perimeter areas which help the much varied heathland wildlife.

A number of years ago, during the cutting of our heather, we realised that we were losing a large amount of seed while carrying out the cutting process. It was decided to trial different methods to see how we could save some of this seed but also try to remove the majority of the brashings. One process we trialled involved passing the heather that we had cut and collected, through a vibrating screen. The success of this method allowed us to use the extra seed collected to re-establish heather back into areas which had been weakened or lost over the years to grass invasion, traffic wear or age.16-17 heather 2

The process we have established for selected areas is to firstly to clear the area of all organic material, such as turf, scrub and so on. Following this we remove as much of the topsoil as possible, this helps with the establishment of the heather seedlings. Failing to remove this rich soil layer would encourage grass and weeds to develop before the heather seedlings get established.

We run a power harrow over the area to prepare it for the application of collected seed / brashings. These are spread using pitch forks, this is followed by going over the area again 16-17 heather 3with the power harrow; this brings the seed into contact with the soil, thus reducing the chance of wind blow or the seed being washed away. The action of a power harrow is preferred as this stirs the seed into the profile, if we were to use a rotavator, the working action of this would bury the seed to deep, reducing the likelihood of germination.

Germination of heather can vary, but you are looking around six months before seedlings start to appear, with around 18 to 24 months before full ground cover is achieved. During this period you can get some weed and grass invasion and increasingly we are having to review herbicide use and any product being considered for broad leaved weeds must be approved before use in amenity grassland (amenity vegetation). Heather rich grasslands are still classified as amenity grasslands whilst within the confines and management of a golf course.

Two common weeds that are often found in heather areas are; common ragwort which grows to 30 to 100cm in height with daisy like yellow flowers and rosebay willowherb which grows to around 150cm and flowers between June and September. Ragwort and indeed rosebay willowherb can be removed by digging / pulling, ideally before flowering. Ragwort is disposed of within a sealed container or plastic bag to reduce the chance of any seed falling from the plant during transportation, thereafter it can be incinerated on or off site.

Grass within heather areas has always caused problems, with limited chemicals available to the heathland manager; Kerb Flowable has achieved some good results. January is the best month to apply Kerb, with the heather at its most dormant. Kerb can be applied through a power-mounted sprayer but using a sprayer mounted on an ATV, with their smaller booms, will compensate for any uneven terrain.

Application rate of Kerb is at the full product label recommended dose. Please note, when applying a herbicide, as strong as Kerb Flowable, it is important that the operator selects the chosen routes, sticks to these and does not allow any part of the ATV to come into contact with any part of the course other than the area he is working on. Also ensure that the product is applied in strict accordance with the label recommendations, which for Kerb includes applying at ground temperatures below five degrees Centigrade and within tight seasonal limits.

One pest that can cause problems in heather is the heather beetle; in an infected area you will notice that it will have has lost its green appearance and will appear more of a rusty colour. On closer inspection the green leaf material on the affected plants will have been eaten away, leaving only dead or brittle stems or shoots. Some of the heather plants will appear to have the bark stripped from them. Colour is a good diagnostic feature, but frost damage, drought stress and trampling can all produce similar effects so don’t be fooled. Unfortunately spraying is not an option no matter how localised, this in turn would eradicate too many of the spiders and insects that inhabit the heather ecosystem and is therefore not a viable option. We at Hankley tend to leave the plants over the first year and assess recovery thereafter. Only at this time would we consider the most appropriate management.

Back in 2011 we invested in the new Wiedenmann heather management system. This is an out front rotary deck, which removes the tramlining effect left behind when using trailed flail or rotary mowers. The cuttings are then sucked up through a hose, passed through a second impeller which chops the brashings up a second time, before being deposited into the hopper attached to the rear of the tractor. This system has allowed us to deposit the brashings directly onto any prepare area, thus removing the previous screening process.

Heather turfing is an alternative way of re-establishing heather into areas where heather loss has occurred or as an addition to any construction projects. These areas can be around bunkers, teeing areas and so on.

Preparation for heather turf is the same as that of seeding, ensuring the soil with in preparation area is as impoverished as possible, this will help reduce grass and weed invasion.

Lift the turf using a turf cutter, ensuring that it is cut to depth of a minimum of two and maximum of 18 inches in length. This allows the turf to be lifted and laid causing minimal damage to the turf structure. When using a turf cutter, the height of the heather in the area marked for lifting needs to be reduced allowing the turf cutter to operate efficiently and without causing damage to the turf.

Alternative means of lifting heather turf, where a more natural look is required is by the use of an excavator; this will allow larger areas of heather to be moved and is less labour intensive. Moving heather turf with an excavator also allows to you to move Gorse plants to give a more diverse area of re-establishment.

One note to remember, following heather turfing, is to ensure that the heather turf areas are kept moist for the first year after laying. Allowing the turf to dry out will reduce the chances of establishment and the plant will struggle to produce any flower and future seed.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 18, 2013 16:58
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  1. @TPLgolf March 18, 18:48

    “@GCM_mag: How Hankley Common Golf Club has maintained the heather on its golf course” — a role model club for all.

    Reply to this comment
  2. 19th Hole Social (@19th_holesocial) March 18, 17:34

    #Golf #Panthersocial How Hankley Common GC has maintained the heather on its golf course

    Reply to this comment
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