Scientists say allowing walkers on urban golf courses risks biodiversity

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 11, 2020 07:59

A group of Australian scientists have said allowing walkers to use golf courses during Covid-19 lockdowns is a threat to biodiversity.

Published on, the scientists said they studied the biodiversity of green spaces in Melbourne for three years, and the research included comparing golf courses to nearby public parks and residential areas. They found that the work greenkeepers put in to maintain golf courses can be so beneficial that the venues contained flora and fauna that barely exist in neighbouring green spaces that aren’t golf courses.

While some of the findings are specific to Melbourne, the conclusion appears to be that urban golf courses anywhere benefit biodiversity significantly more than urban parks do.

‘The results surprised us,’ they wrote. ‘Golf courses contained the greatest diversity and abundance of beetles, bees, birds and bats of all the green spaces we studied. We found ground-nesting native bees that do not occur in much of the urban landscape because it is dominated by built surfaces and exotic flowering plants.

‘The minimum number of bird species we saw on a golf course was always higher than the maximum numbers at other green spaces. We found much more evidence of birds breeding. There was also a diverse array of insect-eating birds, which are in decline in many parts of Australia.

‘Some golf courses supported all ten bat species known to occur in this part of metropolitan Melbourne. Bat activity was ten times greater than in nearby areas of housing. Golf courses also supported twice as many bat species considered ‘sensitive’ to urbanisation.’

The scientists said there are many reasons golf courses support far more than the typical ‘urban-adapted’ fauna seen in cities. A key factor is the complex vegetation structure in the large parts of golf courses such as the rough and out of bounds areas, they added.

These areas of long grass and dense, often native, shrubs have little to no human intervention. ‘These conditions are rarely found in urban parks and residential gardens, which typically have highly managed vegetation. The relatively high proportion of native plant species, many indigenous to the area, is also very important,’ they wrote.

‘This complex vegetation is critical habitat for a wide array of animals such as small insect-eating birds, larger reptiles and ground-dwelling mammals. For example, occurrence records show Northcote Golf Course is an important refuge for the small population of swamp wallabies living along Merri Creek in Melbourne’s inner north.

‘Greater leaf litter accumulation and lower soil compaction mean these areas have healthier soils with more biological activity. These soils can also absorb stormwater more effectively, reducing the risk of urban flooding.’

Another reason is that golf courses have many more large, old native trees. These mature trees are critical to the breeding success of hundreds of animal species as they contain hollows, which are rare in urban areas. Because golf courses often prevent other uses, old trees can be left standing longer than is tolerated in other parts of the city.

Another important factor is the exclusion of dogs and ability to control other mammals, which protects vulnerable fauna.

Royal Melbourne GC

Golf courses also provide a large expanse of dark vegetated habitat in an otherwise illuminated landscape. This habitat is critical for nocturnal animals, as well as many birds and invertebrates. ‘Artificial light at night is emerging as one of the most pervasive threats to urban wildlife,’ they stated.

‘Large refuges of dark habitat in cities are unique and ought to be protected. However, this may be at odds with increased human activity, particularly if night lighting is needed to satisfy safety concerns.’

They stated that these results should influence policy makers when it comes to allowing walkers to use golf courses during coronavirus lockdowns, such as in England in November 2020.

‘We are not suggesting golf courses should not be made more accessible to the public,’ they stated. ‘The Covid-19 restrictions on human movement have highlighted the value of urban green spaces as places to exercise, socialise and connect with nature. But if city golf courses are opened to the public, it is vital it not be done at the expense of their biodiversity.

‘Indeed, shared-use models may ensure golf courses remain viable.

‘The potential for golf course managers to improve the habitat that sustains biodiversity is also great. Ways to achieve this include tree planting, direct seeding of native grasses and wildflowers, and regeneration burns. Many course managers are eager to do this, although they have to proceed cautiously because it can affect the speed of play.

‘Some urban golf courses support threatened species and communities, but all are biodiversity refuges in what can be a hostile urban landscape. We need to consider this when contemplating alternative uses.

‘High demand for green space under Covid restrictions led to calls in 2020 to temporarily open golf courses to non-golfers and fuelled public calls to ‘unlock’ or repurpose them permanently. However, this must be done carefully because many golf courses are oases of biodiversity. If more people visit golf courses, increased disturbance of wildlife is just one of the results that may be incompatible with their nature conservation values.’

The article comes as Sleaford Golf Club in Lincolnshire has continued recording wildlife on its course during the latest lockdown, having photographed snakes, hedgehogs and 41 species of birds in recent years.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 11, 2020 07:59
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  1. Our Endangered World September 23, 16:00

    As long as the habitat for diverse wildlife is protected, and the efforts to protect are what matters.

    Reply to this comment
  2. djm November 12, 11:19

    I’m positing that these “Australian scientists” will have been using the same computer modelling programme as fuckwit Ferguson.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Namakwa Diamonds November 11, 20:37

    Hilarious. There is a thin line between intelligence and pure stupidity. With some people this line is non-existent.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Dr Murray November 11, 13:32

    ” Scientists or SCIENCE FICTIONISTS “

    Reply to this comment
  5. Herbert November 11, 12:07

    The results are for for one city so could just be a local occurrence – be interesting to Evaluate biodiversity on golf courses versus surrounding parks across many countries and cities. Bryanston and Johannesburg surrounds is supposedly the greenest (high tree density) and I bet the results resonated with this scientific report. Most courses however have allowed dogs and walkers as social membership is a popular option.

    Reply to this comment
  6. HarryK November 11, 12:00

    They are freaking idiots!

    Reply to this comment
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