A golf course is not just a golf course

This week I have a special article written for my blog by Stephen Thompson from John O'Gaunt Golf Club in Bedfordshire. The golf club have been busy making their land good for bees. Read on to find out more...

At first glance a golf course might not seem like a suitable place for wildlife, with manicured greens, fairways and tees, grass cut everywhere. Who would have thought it would be a haven for wildlife.

Through our everyday management there are lots we can do to help encourage wildlife. Not everything has to be cut all the time. Out of play areas are left to grow long through the spring and summer months and are cut and collected in the autumn. This helps to encourage insects and small mammals and also encourages wildflowers to start growing in these areas. We have also tried to create wildflower areas too by preparing an area and sowing wildflower seed. In 2011 we were the first club to sign up to a new scheme called Operation Pollinator run by a company called Syngenta. This was a scheme designed for golf courses to help encourage bees and other pollinating insects. In October an area was chosen that was quite bare and out of play but close to where golfers walk. The ground was prepared by scarifying it to leave about 60% bare soil and a wilflower seed mix was sown. The mix contained seven species: Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Self Heal, Red Clover, Lady’s Bedstraw, Field Scabious, Wild Carrot and Black Knapweed. We didn’t expect that much the following year but we were in for a big surprise.

2012 was quite a wet year so may have had an impact on the growth of the grass around the course and the wildflowers. The Operation Pollinator area was a huge success in its first year, all seven species of wildflower flowered, and it looked fantastic. Since its first season we have found five species of bumblebee plus numerous butterflies, moths and other insects like grasshoppers and crickets. Once the wildflowers had died down in the autumn, we cut and collected everything but instead of just dumping the clippings we spread them on another area to disperse the seed and increase the wildflowers around the course.

In 2013 the Operation Pollinator area was looking fantastic again with more of all the species of wildflower spread more evenly. Since Operation Pollinator, other areas around the course have been sown with wildflower seed to create more habitats for our native bumblebees. At the end of 2013, I sowed some Yellow Rattle in a few places as a trial to help to combat the thicker grasses rather than use chemicals. This year the Yellow Rattle seems to be doing very well and the Bees are loving it so more of this seed will be sown later in year.

We also provide homes for many species of bird in the form of nestboxes. There are now over 100 nestboxes covering both courses. Blue Tits, Great Tits and occaisonally Robin, Coal Tit and Nuthatch use the small boxes. The bigger boxes are used by Kestrel, Barn Owl, Stock Dove, Jackdaw and sometimes Grey Squirrel. I check the nestboxes in the spring and I am now able to ring some of the chicks. Most years we have around 400 chicks, mostly Blue and Great Tits. The boxes are cleaned out in the winter and repaired or replaced where necescary due to squirrel or woodpecker damage.

The response from the club management and the members is excellent, there is a wildlife noticeboard in the clubhouse where they can record sightings and I write an article in the quarterly club newsletter. Members are always coming up to me whilst out on the course and telling me stuff that they have seen and I often get asked to help identify something or asked for general wildlife advice. There are often evening walks for members and local people looking for wildlife and local experts often come in to help lead Bat walks. In 2013 I organized for some guest speakers to come to the club to do a talk about Owls and Swifts, these both went down really well with those that attended and more are planned for the future.

I have always been interested in birds so working outside and being able to enjoy my hobby at the same time has been very rewarding. Over the years working at John O'Gaunt my interest in all forms of wildlife has grown sustantially leading me to come up with a motto – A Golf Course is not just a Golf Course. I try to get the message across to the members, local people and beyond that a golf course can really be a good place for wildlife. I have written articles for the local paper, various magazines and even appeared on BBC local tv in 2009.

All the work I have put in to the club and this media coverage has bought the club a lot of success with local and national organizations. We won the Nature Conservation Award at the 2013 BIGGA golf environment awards and we were runners up   in 2014 for environmental golf course of the year. We have also won awards with the bedfordshire branch of the C.P.R.E. The club are now corporate members of the RSPB and we are hoping to work with them on future projects in educating people that a Golf Course is not just a Golf Course.

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