A self-driven sustainability drive

James Kimmingsin Conservation & Ecology

We spoke to Deputy Head Greenkeeper, Craig Swindells, about his passion for the environment and sustainability, and how this has transferred from his personal life to work life.

Craig has been working for Chipping Sodbury Golf Club in Bristol for the last thirteen years. The club hadn't adopted a sustainability view of management until he suggested it a few years ago.

"The wildflower project was probably the start of things, which was a couple of years ago now, and since then it's just pushed on and on. We most recently worked with an environmental company called Keystone who helped move our badger population. We had to have cameras set up to see what movements they were making and it was fascinating to watch them. We also put upside-down plastic bottles in the ponds and ditches to record the newt population. Keystone did most of the hands-on work, but we worked closely with them and directed when required."

Craig has also worked to improve the bird population across the course: "We had a couple of resident buzzards and, after a little research looking at what they like and don't like, I used this knowledge to improve their habitat. It was the exact same when we had owls come to the course. We worked closely with the Hawk and Owl Trust in order to get the best possible environment for them."

He explained how the environmental projects have added a different aspect to his job: "Maintaining the course and everything involved with that is something we all do in the industry. All of a sudden, when you get involved with a completely different side of things, it adds a lot of interest to your role by learning about different pollinators and the habitats that you can create; for example, I have built my own bird boxes which we have put up around the course and we are keen to add more successful projects."

Craig thinks that the sustainability route is something that many golf courses across the UK will adopt in the coming years: "I think in the next five to ten years it's going to be the way that golf courses go. The sooner you start doing sustainable projects and the sooner you start putting provisions in place, the better it will be. I think if you're interested in it, then go for it."

Having said that, Craig feels there needs to be much more environmental and sustainability education: "It's being incorporated into golf courses, however, I don't think it is included when you qualify to be a greenkeeper. If you view a current prospectus of NVQ Level 2 or Level 3, it's not something that they would be teaching; it's almost like it is a completely separate entity. You only have to look at the fertiliser rules and how they are changing to know how important sustainability is; lots of people are switching to organic fertilisers to improve plant health and reduce fungicide application."

"I think moving forward, especially for colleges and universities, it's something that they should be adding to the qualification, even if it's only one module… until then, new recruits will not know that much about it. The media side of things can do a little bit of education, but it's hard because a lot of the stuff is product based as opposed to projects. If industry magazines stopped pushing stories about sustainability and environmental projects, then many wouldn't know about it."

Craig went on to describe how members have reacted to all the recent projects: "First and foremost, we don't have leisure facilities or anything like that here, therefore, the main revenue for us is the course. If you can start educating members about wildlife and habitats, they also enjoy that side of things and we have received a very positive reaction. So much so, a few members have said they'll buy trail cameras to put up and watch the wildlife."

Projects have seen visitors come from far and wide to see the work that Craig has done, despite not wanting to play golf: "We have had people who aren't even members come and visit the course to just see the wildflower project that I completed with DLF. That's interesting because it means that people will come and see the projects, have a walk around the course and they often stay for food and drinks, which brings in revenue."

Craig explained the importance of clubs being supportive of these projects and seeing what can happen with some investment: "You almost need to put in a few years of work and then be patient for people to see the changes; when the committee and management see results, it's a lot easier to get them on board for future projects."