Golf courses provide an essential haven for some of the UKs most endangered insect species, and potentially hold the key to restoring populations of essential pollinating insects.
A new study, to provide a scientific approach to pollinator conservation efforts on golf courses, has revealed some fascinating finds - including the extremely rare bumblebee, Bombus ruderatus, on Operation Pollinator habitat at Rutland County Golf Club in Leicestershire.
The extensive study, by leading independent entomologist and ecologist, Mike Edwards, on some of the golf courses involved in the Syngenta Operation Pollinator initiative across the UK, has catalogued the diversity of insect species present, and the habitat potential to increase both the numbers and range of insect species.
Commenting on the study's results, Mr Edwards highlighted that, whilst some individual golf clubs already have areas of outstanding interest for wildlife, there remains a large number where the potential to make a real contribution had yet to be realised.
"Many of the older clubs have areas that reflect the sort of countryside that was present before modern agricultural production became established.
All too often, however, these areas have sadly been unmanaged and of limited ecological value," he said.
"Providing expertise and support in restoring such flower-rich grasslands with the Syngenta Operation Pollinator initiative can make a major contribution to the conservation of our flora and fauna."
The discovery of Bombus ruderatus on Rutland County Golf Club was an especially exciting discovery, since the species was considered on the verge of extinction just a few years ago - with no records of the bumblebee in the area since 1994.
However, Mr Edwards recalled that, when Operation Pollinator habitat had been created on farmland over the past decade, B ruderatus was again rediscovered from the point of extinction, and is successfully on the way back to recovering its former distribution.
"It is a classic case of when you put the habitat back, bumblebees and other pollinating insects are given the chance to recover," he advised.
"Operation Pollinator provides the essential food, shelter and breeding sites to help a wide array of insect species through difficult times."
Rutland County Golf Club Head Greenkeeper, Jamie Goddard, intends the colour and wildlife in the club's new Operation Pollinator wildflower areas will enhance the whole experience of playing the course for golfers, as well as providing a valuable habitat for essential pollinating insects.
"The fact that we already have the incredible find of the rare Bombus ruderatus on the course highlights the ecological value of golf courses.
Now we can actively manage areas to make them even more attractive for bumblebees and other pollinators, alongside a great course for players, makes it even more exciting," he added.
The club has instigated a three-year plan for the establishment of dedicated wildflower habitats and management of rough.
Mike Edwards also highlighted Operation Pollinator and the creation of wildflower habitats could initiate additional benefits for golf clubs, through improved playability of rough, better visual appearance of the course and innovative marketing opportunities to attract new players.
"Increasing the floral diversity has been shown time and time again to result in more insects and a greater diversity of species; golf courses will be no different," he advised.
"This is the start of a very important journey, and I am proud to be involved in following the development of Operation Pollinator for golf courses."
Autumn Rescue opportunity
One of the key aspects of successfully restoring or establishing wildflowers in areas of golf course rough is the removal of competitive coarse grasses that dominate thick, dense rough, according to Syngenta Technical Manager, Dr Simon Watson.
Autumn applications of the selective herbicide, Rescue, offer an ideal opportunity to clean up and thin out invasive grass species, such as Ryegrass, he advised.
"Removal of the coarse grasses allows the more attractive fine fescue grasses to flourish, whilst also letting in the light for wildflowers to establish and grow," he said.
"Furthermore, thinning out the rough enables golfers to find balls from errant shots, which will reduce players' frustration and speed up play."
Dr Watson advocated Recuse should be applied whilst the coarse grasses are actively growing, to aid uptake of the systemic herbicide.
"Extensive research and user trials have shown high levels of kill can be achieved with well-timed autumn applications.
The added advantage of autumn application is that the plants are naturally senescing, which limits the visual impact of treatments."
Rescue is approved for use at the rate of 1.0 l/ha in the autumn, with optimum results achieved using the Syngenta XC Foliar Nozzle to minimise the effect of undulations or variable vegetation height and to achieve all round coverage of the leaf; applying in a water volume of 250-300 l/ha.
"Sprayer operators are reminded to set the nozzle height at 50cm above the target, which may be 15 to 20cm above the ground when spraying rough," he added.
For turf specific agronomy and product information go to www.greencast.co.uk
Rescue selective herbicide is available in the Pitchcare Store.