The nature of a golf course

The nature of a golf courseThe nature of a golf course

With over 100 golf courses in Hertfordshire and our boroughs in Middlesex, there is a huge area of land which supports all sorts of wildlife.

By far the largest areas of grassland on any golf course are the fairways – those sections between the tees and greens. However, not all fairways are the same and if managed sympathetically with wildlife in mind, they can support a rich biodiversity.

Taking the rough with the smooth

On most fairways the central part is short mown grass – the part that golfers aim for when teeing off. The design of the course will dictate the mowing regime. The harder the course, the narrower the area of short mown grassland that will be maintained on the fairway. This is good news for wildlife as there will be a correspondingly greater area allowed to grow long as ‘rough’ or
‘semi-rough’. These roughs may be flower-rich havens for insects and small mammals, which will in turn provide food for animals further up the food chain such as bats and owls. Some of our rarest habitats are found along fairways – at Harpenden Common Golf Club heather is being encouraged to
regenerate through positive management.

A wood is good

This isn’t a reference to club selection, but to the benefits of having woodland within the golf course. Those bats and owls referred to above will nest and roost in older trees with splits and rot holes. At Berkhamsted Golf Club the fairways are lined by woodland containing ancient beech and oak trees, a beautiful backdrop to this popular course. Where safe to do so, leaving standing and fallen dead wood provides homes and food for saproxylic insects – those species which live in rotting timber. It will also prove popular with woodpeckers for excavating their nests. Amphibians such as toads will hibernate below log piles or in cavities below trees.

The wetter the better

Lakes, ponds and ditches adjacent to or within the fairway all provide exciting and often frustrating challenges to even the most experienced golfers, but a few dropped shots and lost balls are surely a small price to pay for the diversity of wildlife they support. In spring, frogs toads and newts will breed. In summer dazzling dragonflies will dart and dash over the water in search of prey or a mate. At night these areas will be favoured by bats feeding on the multitude of flying insects emerging from the water.

A close shave…

Whilst at first glance the close mown heart of a fairway may look wildlife-unfriendly, visit at the right time and it’s easy to see how it provides a valuable habitat. At dawn and afterwards, until the first golfers tee off, the close mown grassland will attract blackbirds and thrushes, feeding on worms and other soil-dwelling invertebrates. In the spring or autumn you may even be lucky enough to find a wheatear feeding up before continuing its migration to breeding or wintering grounds. On winter afternoons the same prey may attract a gaggle of black-headed gulls catching a quick snack before moving on to roost at one of our reservoirs.