"Golf courses support a plethora of wildlife, some of which is strictly protected. It is essential to ensure that due diligence is demonstrated in respect of protected species and habitats"
Golf courses occupy approximately 0.6% of the land mass of the UK, which is more than the total occupied by the RSPB, country parks or local nature reserves.
Habitats on golf courses generally made up of intensively managed manicured lawns, less intensively managed fairways and non-playing areas. In general, the non-playing areas represent around 65% of the total golf course; a large proportion of land that can be used for nature conservation purposes.
The mosaic of habitat types often found on golf courses provides valuable resources for legally protected species, including great crested newts (ponds), bats (buildings and trees), badgers (woodlands and banks) and reptiles (grassy fairways and scrub). All of these species are transient and highly mobile, taking advantage of different habitats as the seasons change, and some, particularly bats and some reptiles, have a large range. Golf courses therefore not only provide intrinsic value for protected species, but also represent valuable stepping stones and wildlife corridors with dispersal opportunities into the wider landscape.
There is a need for strict management regimes on golf courses in order to ensure user safety and to maintain aesthetic function. Such management practices may impact on habitats used by protected species.
For example, draining of ponds may significantly impact on a breeding population of great crested newts, and felling or managing over-mature trees or woodland may disturb, or directly harm, a bat roost. Strict legislation covers protected species and, in many cases, surveys should be undertaken before works begin to avoid the risk of committing an offence. Where planning permission is required, a scoping exercise may be requested by the Local Authority to support the application and, as ecology is a material consideration, protected species information is often required prior to determination.
We invest a lot of time in providing expert advice to developers, architects, private landowners and builders on their legal position in respect of protected flora and fauna on sites, as well as the necessary survey effort needed to comply with relevant legislation. One of the main ways of staying above the law is to know what you have on your golf course. If you know you have protected species, then you can take steps to avoid disturbing or harming them.
Where might an ecologist's input be needed?
1. Draining ponds
Draining of ponds, or works to terrestrial habitat around pond perimeters, could potentially impact upon great crested newt populations. In this regard, there is a risk that an offence may be committed in relation to disturbance of the habitat or the newts themselves, or in relation to direct harm of the same. As such, a survey should be carried out to determine the population prior to any works being undertaken. If great crested newts are found to be present, a licence may be required from Natural England for works to continue.
2. Clearing grassland/scrub
Grassland and scrub habitat is often used by reptiles for foraging and sheltering during summer months, and may also be used by great crested newts. The clearance of grassland or scrub may disrupt a habitat linkage (between ponds, or linking to larger patches of grassland or woodland), and animals themselves may be harmed or killed during the clearance process. In this regard, reptile and great crested newt surveys may be recommended to establish any populations and to design suitable mitigation.
3. Clearing woodland
Depending on the extent and timing of the clearance, works may impact on protected species, including nesting birds, bats, great crested newts, reptiles and dormice. We highly recommend a visit prior to any works being undertaken, in order to scope out the risk to protected flora or fauna of any clearance.
4. Felling trees
Trees are used by bats for roosting, foraging and commuting, and any works to mature trees with features such as woodpecker holes, cracks, cavities, stem lesions and significant dead wood may impact on bat populations. Where works to such trees are required, we strongly advise that the advice of an ecologist be sought, to ensure that relevant precautions are taken. Tree works should also avoid the bird nesting season (March-September) where possible.
5. Removing habitat piles
Reptiles and great crested newts both hibernate between November and March, seeking out habitats including log piles, piles of bricks and even cracks in walls or mammal burrows to do so. Where such habitat needs to be removed or managed, the person doing the work should be confident that there is no risk of an offence. The best way to do this would be to consult an experienced ecologist for advice.
6. Building demolition
Buildings are often used by roosting bats. Where a building is going to be demolished, it is essential to find out whether or not the works will impact on a bat roost. Bats are protected by European legislation, and the protection extends to the habitat, not just the bat itself. In this regard, a building may still be protected, even if bats are not currently roosting there. Without this information, it would be impossible to demonstrate due diligence, and there is a real risk that works may result in an offence being committed. The best way to avoid such risks is to consult an ecologist early on in the process to avoid any complications further down the line.
Golf courses support a plethora of wildlife, some of which is strictly protected. It is essential to ensure that due diligence is demonstrated in respect of protected species and habitats where any works on your golf course are undertaken, in order to avoid committing an offence under wildlife legislation.
The best way to do this is to seek expert advice on ecological issues prior to any works being undertaken.
Landscape Planning are a multi-disciplinary consultancy, and are also able to provide advice on tree hazard issues and woodland management. Please get in touch to discuss your individual requirements.