Make your 2024 impact in nature conservation

Marie Athornin Conservation & Ecology

Dr Marie Athorn from the RSPB and The R&A partnership reflects on 2023 and how you can make an impact in 2024.

My greatest highlight from 2023 was during the AIG Women’s Open; a young girl, around 8, came along to one of the nature walks we were running around Walton Heath and declared this was the only reason she wanted to come to the event, despite being a rising golf star already! 

And lucky enough, whilst we were on the nature tour at Walton Heath, we were able to spot Green Woodpeckers delicately feeding on the tee, Meadow Pipits singing over the long rough and Common Blue butterflies fluttering over the heather, although the adders remained elusive.

It was heart-warming to witness the next generation so enthusiastic to see nature on golf courses. I am genuinely passionate about inspiring the next generation, whether that is to just generally care about our natural world or specifically around championing nature on golf courses. I know many of you are too. So, what can you plan next year to engage the local community, children and adults alike?

My other highlight of the year also fits within the realm of inspiring the next generation. It was being part of a First Green event run by BIGGA at Royal Liverpool. School children from a local school came along to the practice area to see all different aspects of the jobs available on a golf course. From rebuilding a revetted bunker to cutting new holes, using a stimpmeter, the PGA professional giving putting lessons and hearing about the nature on the golf course from me.

The children were so animated and enthralled by every aspect of the morning, and what an incredible opportunity it was to raise awareness of the golf sector as a potential job when they grow up! The BIGGA website has all the details about support in hosting a First Green event; let’s fill 2024 with inspiring the next generation of greenkeepers and conservationists.

Thinking big for 2024

I often talk to golf courses about thinking outside their boundary; can you work with your neighbours or other local golf courses for nature? In 2023, I was involved with an event that was thinking even bigger than that… a 100-mile nature corridor across Sussex called Weald to Waves. An inspiring initiative to connect ALL landowners and managers, from wildlife charities to farmers, to schools, gardeners and community groups and, after the event, golf courses!

A great event was held at Lewes Golf Club to demonstrate to golf courses how they could get involved in this landscape scale project, with inspiring stories shared from golf courses within the network on the incredible work they are doing for wildlife. The event brought together a lot of golf clubs from the corridor, conservation organisations and other authorities and potential funders to share knowledge and facilitate some incredible work to support nature. Initiatives like this are beginning to take hold across large areas of the UK. Why not do some research about whether there is one in your area that you could get involved with in 2024?

You CAN make a difference in 2024

We now hear regularly about the nature and climate emergencies, and how we need to act now to save our natural world. And we saw in the Wild Isles documentary in 2023 what we have to lose! Wild Isles was a BBC David Attenborough documentary, co-produced by the RSPB, WWF and The Open University about UK wildlife, still on iPlayer if you missed it.

It can often feel difficult to know where to start to make your impact, but we know what an impact existing golf courses can make with the right approach and management.

The end of January sees the celebration of the work many golf courses have done to support nature, in the Golf Environment Awards held during BTME! An evening full of inspiration and recognition, definitely a place to start to get some ideas for your own golf course during 2024.