That's the Way to Do It!
By Lee Penrose
Following on from the announcements of the winners of the 2004 BIGGA Environment Competition, supported by Scotts, Syngenta and WRAP, in the December issue, Lee Penrose now looks more closely at the 10 clubs whom received a prize.
I have summarised the environmental work undertaken so that prospective future applicants can see the type and quality of projects that have impressed the judges.
Minchinhampton Golf Club
From the outset we knew that Minchinhampton Golf Club were going to be very strong contenders for the overall title this year. The envelope containing the completed application form landed in the Ecology office at STRI with an additional CD enclosed. An intrigued Bob Taylor and I inserted the disk into the computer and sat back to watch a superbly prepared PowerPoint presentation which answered each question on the form in great detail using pictures and practical examples
A visitor to the club could not fail to be impressed by the amount and diversity of environmental projects being undertaken throughout the site. Ecologically speaking; the amount of deep, well managed rough grassland created over the past year has been tremendous. This now provides habitat for a myriad of wildlife including wild flowers, butterflies, small mammals and ground nesting birds such as skylark. Numerous hedgerows around the course are now being restocked and maintained by a well timed flail in order to enhance the ecological corridors throughout the golf course.
One of the most impressive new initiatives undertaken over the past year involved the transformation of a disused water storage tank into a valuable pond for dragonflies and amphibia. Following the commissioning of a new borehole the old mains water storage tank became redundant, instead of removing the tank or, worse, allowing it to rust 'in-situ' the top half was removed and the sides of the base landscaped and backfilled. A small pool was formed in the top of the remaining tank which retains its own water followed by the introduction of vegetation and flat rocks as food and access for wildlife.
Not only have the club addressed ecological issues and habitat creation, but also other equally important issues such as landscape and cultural heritage, waste recycling, energy efficiency and organic waste composting. The January 2004 issue of Greenkeeper International featured a case study of the impressive wind-assisted composting system at Minchinhampton, which is well worth a second read if you want to appreciate the scale of work and dedication of Paul Worster and his staff. It is these projects which go 'above and beyond' the norm which has afforded Minchinhapton Golf Club the coveted title of Overall Winner in the 2004 BIGGA Golf Environment Competition and which continue to push the boundaries of progressive golf club management and makes judging this competition such a pleasure!
Hankley Common Golf Club
Hankley Common without doubt supports some of the finest heathland habitat within the Southern Region; the quality of habitat represented is not by any means a result of natural processes, but a long and sustainable concerted effort on the part of the greenstaff and the club to manage what is essentially a vast area, the majority of which lies well off the playing line. Heathland management at Hankley is not just centred on the management of the heather which incidentally does consider maximising structural diversity but the restoration of management of small dragonfly pools, the removal of trees, the retention of roots as hibernacula for reptiles and thinning/replanting of retained woodlands for their bird and other wildlife interest. Through appropriate management Hankley Common supports between 8% and 12% of the local woodlark population while Dartford warbler and nightjar also breed and are well represented over the course. Although Hankley in the past has won the competition and this year were clearly worthy winners of the South East Region, the level of commitment now being shown by other clubs throughout the UK is proving to be significant and Hankley Common will need to work hard on its energy efficiency and ways of management strategies if it is to regain the title presented back in 1997.
Brighouse Bay Golf Club
The golf course at Brighouse Bay caters both for a members club and the tourists which reside in the adjacent holiday park. It is a credit to the owners and managers of the caravan park and golf club that environmental issues have been so ingrained into the day-to-day running of the site that the Brighouse Bay complex has received the David Bellamy Gold Award for sustainable tourism for the past eight years running. When judging the golf club for this year's BIGGA Environment Competition it was important not to become seduced by the stunning location and surroundings of the course and to concentrate on what environmental management is actually taking place. A visitor cannot fail to notice the amount of effort given over to ecological management and the progressive way it is relayed to the golfers. Information signs are discreetly located throughout the golf course highlighting what wildlife is likely to be seen in that particular corner of the site, these signs have been well received by the golfers, so much so that an ecological map of the golf course has now been prepared and is due to be launched to the members and visitors early next spring. Ecological information leaflets are also available for anyone who wishes to walk the footpaths which traverse the golf course.
More practically the ever increasing problem of water usage and disposal are being addressed superbly at Brighouse Bay with large rainwater storage reservoirs providing adequate irrigation for the summer months and all waste water from both the Holiday Park and golf course treated through two reed bed facilities. A determined effort has been made by the management to link all areas of ecological importance within and around the course using tracts of deep rough grassland. The majority of stone walls and other linear features are now augmented by strips of irregularly managed rough which not only allow for wildlife dispersal but also save the club time and money in mower repairs and fuel.
Fulford Golf Club
The degree of enthusiasm for conservation and ecological management activities has increased significantly over the past few years. This may at least in part be due to the success of the work undertaken thus far in improving both the visual aspects of the golf course and in places the putting and playing quality. The main focus of the conservation work has been in restoring acid grassland through the removal of woodland and in the development of rides to maximise the woodland edge. A number of very successful trials have been set up to assess the potential for increasing heather, recently the golf club have accepted and indeed "actively encouraged" sheep on the course from adjacent farmland serving to demonstrate their role in grassland conservation management.
Garnant Park Golf Club
Wales has historically been undersubscribed in the BIGGA Environment Competition and has been amalgamated into the South West region in previous. Not so this year however, with numerous entries and judging visits carried out; the Welsh golf clubs are now again displaying their environmental credential to the world.
This was the first year of entry to the Competition for this seven year old golf club and what an impact they made! The application form arrived at STRI in box file bursting at the seams with supplementary information including; energy audits, flora and fauna listings, an ecological management plan and an environmental policy for the entire club.
A visit to the club confirmed our suspicions that this little gem of a club really was dedicated to improving the environmental credentials of golf. A small hut is situated adjacent to the 1st tee which, by design, is also the entry point for the public rights of way through the course. This hut is filled with posters and ecological information leaflets that both golfers and the public are encouraged to peruse before setting foot on the course and perhaps seeing some of the wildlife in the flesh. Working closely with local wildlife groups and universities has developed a real understanding of the value of the course for wildlife and management plans are now being produced for two Biodiversity Action Plan species which reside on the course namely; brown hare and skylark.
Notts (Hollinwell) Golf Club
The level of interest given to conservation work at Hollinwell is clearly outstanding. This primarily centres on improving habitat quality on the entire estate, much of which is well off the playing line. Hollinwell is without doubt helping to conserve an extremely important remnant heathland that has almost entirely been destroyed within the surrounding area. The course supports a considerable diversity of wildlife species, much of which has been recorded by the Sherwood Wildlife Trust and other interested groups. Apart from heather restoration, gorse management, major tree removal programmes (extending to over 50 acres), other more novel projects have included the construction of steep sided sand banks around the edges of certain water features for kingfisher and possibly sand martin. Grazing (Best New Initiative 2003) continues and is recognised as an invaluable management tool. Like Thorpeness, Hollinwell through the installation of a series of recycle bins have become a local borough recycle centre providing a low key facility for the disposal of local community waste.
Thorpeness Golf Club
Thorpness Golf Club have always been a great supporter of the BIGGA Golf Environment Competition and it is indeed unfortunate that although this club has in the past won the South East Region they have not as yet taken the top slot. Year on year the golf club is building upon previous recommendations which this year has involved liaison with the Local Authority and the installation of skips for bottles, cans, paper, cardboard and metal; indeed Thorpeness Golf Club is now registered as a local recycle centre. As progressive refurbishment works continue within the clubhouse, low energy light bulbs and other energy saving devices are being fitted. The golf club have also installed an ESD Waste2Water closed loop recycling system within the maintenance complex.
Although all of the above is impressive, it is without doubt the nature conservation work that is most impressive at Thorpeness. Much of the greenstaff's time is spent cutting and managing bracken, reinstating and regenerating heather and engaging in tree removal. Working with the Sandlins Project, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and the RSPB the club have over the past few years secured extensive listings of all of the major wildlife groups to be found on the course. The RSPB is monitoring woodlark and nightingale populations. Communication to members is ensured through a notice board situated within the starter's hut. The RSPB also undertakes deer safaris and dawn chorus walks.
Last year a water vole survey was undertaken by Royal Holloway and Bedford College and a frog and toad survey has been undertaken by a local school. Many of the members engage annually in a toad-assist programme helping toads to cross the road prior to their spawning.
Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club
The first ever entry to the BIGGA Environment Competition by Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club did certainly impress the judges. The judges were particularly impressed by the level of dedication with regard to ecological enhancement of the golf course and also the dedication of the Club to involve external conservation groups such as The Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Environment Agency.
All aspects of course management are undertaken sympathetically with wildlife and conservation as an overriding factor where any decisions are made. Retention of the bristly oxtongue dominated areas purely for their ecological value has been a brave decision, particularly when the majority of other golf clubs would undertake regular management in these areas to rid the golf course of these perceived "weeds". The newly created temporary green clippings storage bays are some of the most impressive that the judges have seen and when complete the composting system will certainly bring about tremendous benefits to the golf course. Through consistent liaison with The Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Environment Agency an ecological management plan for the golf course is now in place. The aim is to maintain and enhance all ecologically valuable areas on the golf course and create new ones by undertaking impressive initiatives such as the transplanting of sea holly.
Taunton & Pickeridge Golf Club
The Duke of Burgundy fritillary is not something which many greenkeepers will have heard of let alone actively encourage. However, this unassuming little butterfly is the subject of much discussion, debate and investment at Taunton and Pickeridge Golf Club. The Duke of Burgundy is one of the UK's rarest butterflies and is afforded its own national species management plan due to the 24% per decade demise experienced over the past half century, its presence on the golf course at Taunton & Pickeridge is therefore of great significance. Fortunately, the club viewed the presence of this rare butterfly as an asset and have acted progressively to retain and enhance its population. The Somerset Wildlife Trust were engaged, in 2001, by the golf club to produce a Nature Conservation Action Plan which would give special consideration to the Duke of Burgundy fritillary and practical management began.
A rotational programme of scrub clearance, involving the removal of all vegetation and turf from small (10m2) out of play woodlands/scrub commenced in 2001 in order to allow natural regeneration of vegetation from bare soil. Particularly encouraged were individuals of primrose and cowslip which are the primary food source of the Duke of Burgundy fritillary. New areas are cleared of scrub each year in order to encourage the spread of the butterfly and also to provide a variety of ages of grassland and scrub habitat for other wildlife of the golf course.
Bath Golf Club
The new prize of Best Use of Recycled Products has been awarded to Bath Golf Club for two initiatives which display the pro-active attitude of the club to environmental issues. Within the past few years Andy Boyce, the Course Manager, has begun to source more sustainable products for use on the golf course in order to curtail the indiscriminate use of virgin materials within the sector.
Bath GC have entered into a partnership with the local council to purchase fine grade, high standard recycled compost for use as a top dressing on tees, approaches, pathways, fairways and other poor turf areas on the course. This top dressing is a product of a local organic waste composting initiative which aims to produce a cheap yet high quality product with minimal environmental impact. The club have also recently received a grant from Envolve (a charity which specialises in creating more sustainable lifestyles in business) to purchase and use recycled glass sand on the golf course as a divot filling, fairway top dressing and bunker sand with the eventual aim being to purchase a unit which will allow the production of a glass sand locally.