Taking time to appreciate, enjoy and record the species that use your golf course may not only be good for you, but can be good for shifting how people see golf's impact on nature.
© Patrick Cashman - rspb-images.com
There is lots of evidence that shows how much we benefit from spending time around nature, both physically and mentally. That is true whether you see that wildlife at your local nature reserve or on your golf course.
Do you enjoy listening to a Robin sing its heart out from the top of the tree on the 5th, or watching a Brown Hare skip through the long rough? But how do we find out what we are giving back to nature on our golf courses?
Take part in citizen science
Personally, I feel the more we record what wildlife is on our golf courses, and share those stories, the more we can understand what the contribution is across the industry. More and more UK golf courses are making alterations to support nature on their sites, and many have been managing with nature in mind for a long time. Large-scale scientific research, such as some of the projects that The R&A are running through their Golf Course 2030 project, are hugely important, but you can play your part too.
Citizen science is a great way to get involved. You can record your own species observations and add them to mass databases through apps such as iRecord or take part in specific citizen science projects. These are often run by conservation charities and are a chance for people to help answer specific research questions or provide a snapshot in time of how wildlife is doing.
The UK's biggest citizen science project, for example, is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, which asks people all over the UK to spend an hour in January recording which birds land in their garden, local park or other outdoor space (including, of course, golf courses!). Last year, over 500,000 people took part across the UK and sent in over 9 million observations of birds. All this data adds up to paint a picture of how species are doing across the UK, year-on-year. We know, for example, that while the House Sparrow is the most common bird recorded in that survey, its numbers are down 57% from when the Birdwatch started in 1979.
In the last issue, I talked about how Starlings feeding on leatherjackets can be part of an integrated pest management approach. By recording the number of Starlings on your golf course, throughout the year as well as during the Birdwatch, you can help us find out why they are declining and what we can all do to help.
Get your members on board
Engaging your members with recording wildlife can also be a great way to get them excited about the work you are doing to support nature. Can you have a wildlife recording sheet in the changing room or entrance to the clubhouse? Can you start a wildlife part of the newsletter for people to send in their sightings each month? What about bringing in local experts to
lead wildlife walks around the golf course and help train keen members on recording techniques for different species groups? Do you have a greenkeeper who is particularly passionate about wildlife (I know many that are!!)? Can you give them the time and support to be able to champion nature projects at your club? The more we can do to champion the great work golf courses can and are doing to support nature, the better.
Start with butterflies - and spread the word
A great citizen science project to get started with is the Big Butterfly Count (14th July - 6th August). The project is run by Butterfly Conservation Trust and asks everyone to share their observations to help find out how some of our favourite butterfly species are faring. The stats that come out of this project are very concerning - 80% of butterfly species in the UK have declined in abundance or distribution since the 1970s.
Can you contribute to this project by recording butterflies across your golf course between those dates? Pick a sunny afternoon and really take a moment to take in the beautiful habitats your golf course offers and try and spot as many butterfly species as you can. And you don't have to stop when the Big Butterfly Count wraps up - maybe the greenkeeping team can keep a record of the butterflies they spot in the long rough? Or you could ask your members to record butterflies during their round?
Sharing your results and stories afterwards, whether that's with a short tweet or a magazine article, helps others in the industry and the wider public to appreciate what a contribution golf courses can make!