GEA 2020 winners’ story

The deadline for entry to the 2021 Golf Environment Awards is this coming Friday (7 August). Ecology consultant, Rowan Rumball, sat down with three of the 2020 GEA winners to discuss their success, the GEA community and plans for the £750 prize money.

RR: Congratulations on winning the Golf Environment Awards 2020 could you enlighten us on the reasons why you entered?

Amanda Dorans (Dundonald Links – Winner Outstanding Environmental Project): Everyone involved was absolutely over the moon about winning the GEAs. We wanted to promote our work on the Nectar Network, which is not just about Dundonald Links it’s a huge landscape project that actually covers the whole of the Ayrshire coastline, so I was really really pleased and proud to be representing the Nectar Network on the awards night.

Neil Sherman (Ipswich Golf Club – Winner Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year): The main reason for entering was to help with the promotion of the work that we do to the membership of the golf course. Our conservation work is often quite hidden, and golfers don’t understand what goes on in the background. We also wanted to promote the site to the whole industry to show some of the small things that you can do to encourage the wildlife on your site.

John Mcloughlin (Warrington Golf Club – Winner Environmental Golf Course of the Year): It’s been an ambition of mine to become a Golf Environment Awards winner since I joined the club, it was actually something I highlighted in my interview. In the first two years we didn’t enter and perhaps, like a lot of people, we didn’t think we were at the right level or weren’t doing enough. But after speaking to some peers and other people in the ecology community we were encouraged to enter and looking back it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. We were finalists for two years and then we won in our third year of application.

Warrington Golf Club

RR: Tell us some more about the project that helped you win the GEAs?

AD: When the project first started it was solely about increasing habitat for the small blue butterfly which died out in Ayrshire in 1982. The project grew much larger than the butterfly which ended up just being the flagship insect. We started the project in 2010, and then we re-established the butterfly in 2013, so it was three years of pure conservation work making sure that we had the right backdrop for the butterfly and to make sure the butterfly would be able to survive. We were so fortunate the colony arrived and there were 30 sightings of the small blue butterfly in the first year.

The project grew and the success of the colony after all those years of being absent became a really good news story. People were interested in the conservation and the club really bought into it and loved the idea. We welcomed people to come and view this butterfly and we broadened our engagement with the Butterfly Conservation Trust.

We broadened our horizons and it became a bigger community project, outside of golf. We had the Caledonian Paper Mill, SmithKline Beecham, Nestle, Hallmark Hotels and even the Monktonhead roundabout came onboard, and this project grew across North and South Ayrshire. People really got behind it.

NS: Our main thrust of work has been on the heathland. We did quite a lot of heather and acid grassland regeneration which has encouraged a lot of wildlife on to the site. We’ve got two pairs of woodlarks nesting on site now, which we didn’t have three or four years ago. We’ve also got the lunar yellow underwing moth which is a specialised moth that likes very fine acid grassland rough and also grayling butterflies which also like that same habitat.

JM: We are now trying to look at the most innovative ecology and sustainability practises in the world. We have an autonomous mower that cuts the grass round the maintenance facility, costing just £14.00 year in electricity. We’ve got a fish breeding programme where we get money back for the ponds on the course. That generates an income of up to £1000-a-year. We are looking at the latest oils, fuel amendments and greases to allow our machines to operate at a better level. We’ve just had a borehole installed so it feeds into the clubhouse using a UV filtration system, so the club will be fully sustainable, and we won’t need any mains water. All these initiatives and others we are considering lends itself to companies wanting to work with us and collaborate with us. We are getting to the forefront of the industry and are trying to push the boundaries.

Ipswich Golf Club

RR: How easy was it applying for the GEA awards?

AD: I found the application straightforward, there’s a couple of different ways you could enter but I think the online application on for anyone who is first trying out is excellent. It lays it out for you and you’re able to just input answers and upload photos.

NS: It’s an easy process. We’ve got quite extensive recordkeeping of the work we do, and I’ll collate records of the species that use the site, so it’s not a difficult process. I would encourage others to enter because you are just showing off what you’re already doing.

JM: It doesn’t take too much time to enter. It’s a formatted form so you just need to fill in the blanks, and it takes as long as you want it to take. I’ve never spent hours and hours on it, I filled it in quite briefly and hoped the points I did make what would impress the panel so we would get a visit. We’ve had some fantastic visits over the last three years and from that we’ve got a lot of feedback from the consultants which has allowed us to up our game year-on-year.

I speak to a lot of other course managers and greenkeepers who are doing some fantastic work and still haven’t applied. So now I try and encourage the clubs that are doing really good work or maybe just one interesting project to apply now. Coming to the awards is the highlight of my BTME every year.

RR: We are always trying to foster a community of golf courses across the UK who are supporting ecology and the environment. How do you feel about the Golf Environment Awards community?

AD: I’m really passionate about the GEAs. They gave us a platform to shout about who we were and gave us an identity about what we cared about. I think the winners and past winners have a responsibility to promote the awards and what we’re doing for golf, so that it can be more sustainable. I think we’ve got a duty to safeguard our sport and everything that relies on our game – nature and people.

NS: It’s good. We recently been contacted by the RSPB to have a site visit here as part of a Heathland National Conference, that came through the publicity with the GEAs. I run an ecology Twitter account for the course, so I can put all the projects that we work on there, which has been well received. And because we are winners that helps push us up into the limelight a bit more, so more people have followed and more people are looking to see what we’re doing to see if they can copy us and hopefully apply for the awards themselves. It’s opened people’s eyes that golf courses are good for nature and biodiversity.

JM: On social media there’s lots more people posting about ecology and environmental management which is brilliant and it’s much easier to network with these people and build friendships. I think five to six years ago there was maybe a handful of people that were really passionate about it whereas now it’s a growing movement. Going forward if you’re having a job interview at a golf club and you can’t demonstrate any environmental or sustainability stewardship then it wouldn’t look good in the interview process and you would be unlikely to get that job. If your golf club isn’t sustainable it won’t survive.

Dundonald Links

RR: What are you going to do with the £750 prize from the GEAs winners’ prize fund that can be put towards environmental or ecological projects?

AD: We’ve been working on the Nectar Network for a long time and I felt like that it might be worth giving all the people who worked on the project, who give up their Saturdays and Sundays, some branded t-shirts to show some sort of uniformity and continue to promote the project while they are out and about.

NS: We’re thinking about buying some more survey equipment so we can see what other species are around. So, we are looking at a trail camera possibly, and maybe another moth trap. There’s another area where we want to develop some wildflower meadows, so we might use some of the funds to purchase the wildflower seed.

JM: At the club we have invested money in beehives, bird and bat boxes, but what I think we have failed to do is publicise or advertise the work we do to the wider golfing community. We have a lot of visitors, businesses and guests coming to play the course and they might not be aware of the environmental practices we carry out. Therefore, a big thing for me is to put signs up, charts and graphs detailing the work we do. For example, on the first tee a sign highlighting our environmental stewardship out on the course and advertise what bird species, wildlife and invertebrates are in the area. This all adds to the player experience and an educational journey around the course. If we have any money left, I’m hoping to buy a sawmill. We do a lot of woodland management on the course, the wood has been left for a couple of years to dry and it now needs milling to make tables, chairs and planks. I don’t want to wood chip the trees we take off the course, I want to use them as an extra revenue source for the club, it’s a big part of our sustainability.

To enter the GEAs click this link and fill in the form.