Springwatch – Golf Edition

The hit BBC series Springwatch has returned, and with it, so has golf in all corners of the UK.

While golf may have been away for a few months, nature certainly hasn’t.

We’ve been following greenkeepers around the UK who have paused their essential greenkeeping activities to capture photos of the wildlife living on their golf course and we wanted to share some of their encounters with you all.

The Golf Environment Awards reward golf clubs for their commitment to nature conservation. Through targeted habitat management and enhancement, greenkeepers throughout the world are working hard to make golf courses a place for people and wildlife to coexist. From installing bird nest boxes, to creating wildflower areas and installing native hedgerows, golf courses can be sanctuaries not just for wildlife but for the people that visit them too.

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Kestrel chicks in a nest box at Mortonhall Golf Club. Photo captured by Shaun Cunningham

At a time when mental health is more important than ever, good ecological management of golf courses can be key in enhancing the wellbeing value of golf. Surely a golf course with more birds, butterflies and bees is more uplifting than one with little life?

With that thought, lately many greenkeepers have seen life spring up in unexpected places, and not so unexpected places (see above), and that is the thing about nature. There’s always room for surprises.

Young blue tits unexpectedly found in an irrigation box by Rob Hay, Course Manager at Northamptonshire County Golf Club.

Whilst many golfers have missed the majority of spring on the course, many greenkeepers have still been out there undertaking essential maintenance and seeing the wonders of the season unfold.

Ponds and other waterbodies that have laid dormant through the winter have come alive with water-loving plants, such as cuckooflower and marsh marigold, and aquatic invertebrates such as damselflies and dragonflies. Stephen Thompson, Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year 2018 has recorded 18 species of dragons and damsels at John O’Gaunt Golf Club in Bedfordshire!

Female and male common blue damselflies either pre or post-copulation on one of the many waterbodies at Cumberwell Park Golf Club. Taken by Head of Conservation, Jon Keepen

With the warmer days of spring and the sweet smell of nectar comes swathes of other winged invertebrates too.

Across the UK, Operation Pollinator projects are blooming, ensuring that there’s plenty of nectar and pollen available.

One of the many Operation Pollinator wildflower areas at Stonelees Golf Centre in Kent

Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year 2020, Neil Sherman, has been sharing his photographs of moths and butterflies that he’s spotted at Ipswich Golf Club (Purdis Heath) as they take advantage of the wide range of flowering plants and shrubs out on the course.

Of course, golf courses don’t just provide food for pollinators, but a home too.

Mining bees have moved in to the bunkers at Banchory Golf Club and tree bumblebees have been found, well, in a tree, at Ufford Park Golf Club. Meanwhile, Bingley St Ives Golf Club have their first jar of honey from their resident honeybees.

The first jar of honey from Bingley St Ives Golf Club in West Yorkshire

The months of April and May have also been a great time to spot amphibians and reptiles out on the course. Slow worm have been seen basking as far north as Banchory, near Aberdeen, and common lizard have been spotted much further south in Ipswich.

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Slow worm spotted basking on a path at Banchory Golf Club by Course Manager Richard Mullen

Soon, many more lizards will be seen on golf courses in the south and east of England; lizard orchids, that is, which will be in flower any time now. Golf courses account for at least six of the twenty known sites where lizard orchid grows and the seeds are thought to be spread around golf courses by golfer’s (and greenkeeper’s, no doubt!) clothes, clubs and shoes.

One of many lizard orchids found at Royal St George’s Golf Club. Photo credit to Course Manager, Paul Larsen

Sadly, not all greenkeepers have been able to continue work on the golf course through lockdown, but that hasn’t stopped people like Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year 2020 Finalist John Milne (Rothes Golf Club) continuing to build and spread knowledge through e-learning and social networking.

Engagement on Twitter throughout March, April and May has been astounding, with photos and videos of everything from toads to tawny owls being shared and people from all over the world encouraging each other to play their part in nature conservation on the golf course.

Spring is in full swing, that’s for sure but what will summer bring?

Applications for the Golf Environment Awards 2021 are now open until Friday 7 August. Show the world how golf can have a positive impact on the environment and enter today.