A Cheshire golf club has been commended by the Royal and Ancient and promoted nationally as an example to others for its award-winning efforts to manage the golf course for the benefits of wildlife and the environment.
A member of the staff at the R&A read about the work at Eaton and as a result its director of golf course management, Steve Isaac, called in at the club while on his way to a seminar in North Wales.
After seeing the club's work in integrating the course into the countryside Isaac reported that Eaton has clearly recognised that, along with catering for their members and visitors, they had a duty of care for the land and its wildlife.
He described Eaton as an ideal best practice case study of a relatively new golf course that has been developed sustainably and responsibly and, talking to Golfnorthwest, he added: "In these times of far greater environmental awareness, the habitat management and biodiversity improvement seen at Eaton is a superb example of golf making a most positive contribution and one that we would encourage others to follow."
His verdict is the latest tribute to Eaton, where thousands of trees and shrubs have been planted along with other work, including fitting bird boxes and making ponds and allowing selected areas of rough to grow.
Last year Eaton won the British and International Greenkeeper's Association's north of England award for golf course management and particularly its environmental programme.
Following the visit of Issac the club was front page news on the R&A website under the headline 'Eaton leads the way'.
Rupert Thorp, chairman of the club's environmental working group and on the course committee looking after the long-term environmental plan, says: "Naturally we are very proud. It is a great compliment to what has been achieved here."
"There is probably more wildlife here now than when the area was just farmland. I do think golf courses do have the opportunity to foster wildlife more than perhaps farmers.
"But it is more than just opportunity.
"When you work out the area taken up by golf courses and the total number of clubs it means that an area about the size of half of a county is golf course land, which is a lot.
"I think golf courses actually have an obligation to be at the forefront of looking after wildlife."
Eaton opened in 1965 at Eaton Hall on the Duke of Westminster's estate before moving to its present home at Waverton in 1993, one of many courses around the country created out of farmland at that time.
The site had the making of a great area to develop wildlife. An undulating landscape with a brook running through and with many mature oak trees were features used and developed when internationally-famous architect Donald Steel designed the course.
Within a few years of opening and with the support of club members, the Sports Turf Research Institute was called in to make the first of their ecological and environmental assessments of the course.
Peter Longson, a former chairman of the course committee, had the idea of Thorp attending a two-day seminar involving both the STRI and BIGGA dealing with all aspects of the environment and ecology of a golf course, from tree planting to allowing selected areas of the rough to grow.
The long grass grows "ecological corridors" which provide room for the inhabitants to thrive but also to move from one area to another. Long rough is also ideal for barn owls.
Some of the marl pits from long ago, where clay was dug out to improve the quality of the soil, also kettle holes, made when the glaciers retreated, had developed into ponds. Nesting platforms were made for swans and the numbers, like those of the barn owls, have been increasing.
The club has planted 4,000 trees and bushes in the last six years , and with the help of members planted bluebells in the woods and put up more bird boxes.
It has also put in more ponds where possible and this year extended the area of one by 200%. Around the ponds, areas of shallow waters have been made to encourage plant life and the birds and creatures of the wetlands.
Working with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, efforts are being made to encourage water voles along the brook that flows through the course, a job that involves removing the mink using mink-control traps on rafts.
Wildlife is booming. The birds include kestrels, sparrow hawks and buzzards and, around the waters, ducks and ducking. There has been an increase in hares, some now so tame they wait nearby while a golfer hits the ball.
Thorp says: "While we want to encourage trees, plants and wildlife this is first and foremost a golf course. We have to strike a balance between the needs of nature and those of the golfer. We think we have the balance right.
"For me the great satisfaction is seeing members coming in talking about the wildlife they have seen, to hear them say 'did you see the swans today or the kingfisher on the second?'
"It is hugely rewarding putting something down for future generations. Watching the natural sights gives us all so much pleasure."
Source:-Liverpool Daily Post