0 Recording wildlife - What have you got?

In this article, Conservation Greenkeeper at John O'Gaunt Golf Club in Bedfordshire, Stephen Thompson, explains how important it is to record and promote the wildlife seen out on your course and how doing something so simple can have real and lasting benefits for the club, its members and the wider public.

Many golf courses around the UK are doing lots of good conservation and environmental work to help improve their course for local wildlife and to make it a more enjoyable place to play golf, but what exactly have you got on your course and how do you know all the work you are doing is actually making a difference?

You can walk around the course and see birds, butterflies, dragonflies etc., but just how many species of each have you got, what are resident species, what are visiting and what species are drawn to any changes/improvements you might make?

If you plant trees or wildflowers, are you planting the right species? Are you attracting anything that might use these areas as a food source or a home?

This is where good record keeping comes in. Keeping a decent record, or list, of what wildlife you see on the course can help in so many ways. Top of the list is, by recording all the wildlife you see on the course, you can help prove just what an amazing place golf courses can be to the membership and beyond. Also, by keeping good records, it can help you tailor your habitat management by helping to improve an area and increase certain species, and it demonstrates to the members the results of any environmental work around the course.

Long-tailed Tit prior to release after being ringed / Kestrel chicks from summer 2021

Below is a snippet of John O'Gaunt Golf Club's bird records. It shows the species recorded plus a small bit of information. The info varies depending on how often a bird is seen, where it is seen, is it a summer or winter visitor, or whether it is just flying over.

Cormorant: All records are of fly over birds from both courses

Grey Heron: Can be seen at any time but mainly in the winter

Little Egret: Frequent visitor seen on both courses

Great white Egret: Seen by a member on several occasions in 2020

Mute Swan: All records are of fly over birds from both courses

Canada Goose: Most records are of fly over birds

Greylag Goose: Occasional visitor (8 in 2018)

Mallard: Resident

Mandarin Duck: Seen once on 2nd fairway JOG May 2006

Common Buzzard: Regular visitor on both courses

Red Kite: Regular visitor on both sides. Bred for first time in 2021 on JOG

Osprey: May 2008, Nov 2011, March 2012, Sept 2018, March 2021, Aug 2021

Fieldfare: Winter visitor

Redwing: Winter visitor

Sedge Warbler: Two records - by brook near 6th tee year (?) and near sheds in 2019

Whitethroat: Summer visitor

Reed Warbler: One seen in hedge by 10th on Carthagena course June 2010

Garden Warbler: Summer visitor

This kind of thing is fairly simple to do on a laptop and can easily be printed off or emailed to the members.

Stephen setting a moth trap

I started off with birds as that has always been my passion but, over the years, you start to notice more and more and, with further habitat improvements, you really start to build up a picture of just how good your course really is.

I have recorded over one hundred species of birds, twenty-five species of butterfly, twenty-three species of mammals, eight species of bat, 428 species of moth, nineteen species of dragonfly, plus numerous other insects such as Bush Cricket, Wasp Spider and Long Winged Conehead to name just a few.

But it's not all about the fauna, there is plenty of flora too with flowers/plants and trees; I am yet to compile a complete list of these, but it is definitely worth doing.

I have also recorded 157 species of fungi. If you put all these lists together, it really puts into perspective exactly what is out there. It is certainly not just a 'load of grass'!

You now have all the info, but how can you communicate all this info to the members? As already mentioned, it can of course be emailed, but another good way is by providing a wildlife noticeboard for the members where they can view any wildlife news, and you could even provide a sheet where they can report anything they see whilst out playing. Other things you could use the noticeboard for might be annual rainfall figures, interesting magazine articles or any ecological/conservation projects being carried out.

Wildlife notice board at John O'Gaunt Golf Club

The photo above is an example of what we have at John O'Gaunt with spaces also for awards, as you see on the left of the photo. This is situated near the members changing rooms.

I've talked about the members and how you can communicate your environmental initiatives to them, but what about people from the local area/local town or village? It is a good idea to involve local people in letting them know what's happening on their golf course and what wildlife is around the area. It improves the relationship between the club and the community and they get a better understanding that the golf course is not just about grass, there is so much more on offer.

As an example, I run 'Bat Walks' for the members and local people, with help from local experts. When I advertised it to people in the nearby town, I was absolutely stunned by the response, so many people got in touch wanting to come along and find out more about bats. After the initial two walks I had already planned, I had to do quite a few more to try to accommodate everyone and even then I had to turn some away; 'sorry, it's fully booked' was a very common quote.

I even did a walk for the local Girl Guides which went down an absolute storm. Everyone that came along on the walks had a great time seeing and finding out more about these lovely mammals.

This is just one example of what you could try at your course. It's a great way of getting people more involved in nature and good PR for the club.

It's quite handy if, at your club, you have someone like me who is passionate about wildlife and conservation who can help drive forward the environmental message about golf courses and perhaps has the contacts and the knowledge to lead guided walks, but not every club has that luxury.

Girl Guides bat evening - an absolute storm!

If you are starting completely from the beginning, perhaps as a course manager wanting to do your bit to help improve the course(s) for nature, you might need a helping hand. The first thing I would suggest is to communicate with other golf courses in your area or around the country, speak to them and find out what kind of things they are doing on their course to get some ideas and advice on what you might want to do.

Facebook is a good source of information in groups such as Nature on Course. https://www.facebook.com/groups/825785570823833. If you're a complete beginner trying to identify some of the wildlife on your course, then seeking outside help could be a good idea. Speaking to someone from your local Wildlife Trust might help get you started. Maybe arrange a walk with them, have a look around and get some great advice. Try this link to their website for more info and contact details. https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/.

When it comes to birds, then either the RSPB or the BTO (British Trust For Ornithology) would be worth contacting. The BTO do lots of survey work, so it might be possible for a local volunteer to come out and give you some tips on identifying birds. The BTO run the bird ringing scheme https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/ringing. I work with volunteers on behalf of the BTO in running bird ringing demonstrations at John O'Gaunt. It's a great way for members and locals to see birds up close and find out more about them and the bird ringing. And it is more PR for the club.

Bird box for small birds such as Blue Tits / Kestrel Box

The RSPB are another obvious choice for advice about birds but also for a lot more. They are now in partnership with the R&A in offering golf courses advice on all things conservation. Check out this link for more info: https://www.randa.org/RSPB.

There are many more organisations that could help with advice and point you in the direction of your local recorders, web addresses below:

https://butterfly-conservation.org/ (Butterflies & Moths)






You could also try searching on Google for local groups, just put in your county name and Bird Club for example, Bedfordshire Bird Club. http://bedsbirdclub.org.uk/

Golf courses really are great places for wildlife and the more people that know that the better. When you're at work tomorrow, just have a walk around, look up, look around, you might spot a Red Kite flying over, so make a note of it. It's just the beginning, but you have started recording wildlife on your course. Once you start you can't stop! Spring, summer, autumn and winter, there is always something to see out there.

Why not check out my website: www.theconservationbuddha.co.uk where there's lots of golf course related blogs, photos, information and more from beyond the course. You can download lists of the wildlife recorded at John O'Gaunt and details of the nestbox project. If you have any questions, all my contact details are on the website.

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