Golf courses and wildlife

Terry Crump with new plots of heather at Harpenden Common Golf ClubTerry Crump

Maintaining a rewarding golf course whilst satisfying the needs of wildlife is a challenge, but it’s something that General Manager Terry Crump embraces at Harpenden Common Golf Club.

The course forms a significant part of Harpenden Common, over 210 acres of woods, heathland, meadows and ponds designated as a Local Wildlife Site, so careful management to protect the wildlife here is important and much welcomed by local people.

The rough and the smooth
 

It’s necessary to intensively manage parts of the course with regular mowing regimes, but there is room for wildlife in amongst the tees, greens and fairways too, particularly with the longer grass, or ‘rough’. Terry says: “We have seen the benefits of working with Harpenden Town Council through a conservation management plan by letting the rough grow long, and only cutting it once a year.”

Cutting the rough just once a year in July or August means wildflowers have time to set seed and longer grass provides cover for birds, small mammals and insects: “This creates a tougher golf course, for a period. It’s obviously cheaper too as we’re only cutting it once. Sometimes you get complaints as the rough gets too long, but over the years people have got used to it. We always play our club championships prior to the long rough being cut, so it’s as tough as possible!”

Bringing heather back
 

Harpenden Common is important for its patches of rare heathland and meadow and on the golf course work is being carried out to restore and increase heather and gorse. A careful mowing regime will encourage the heather to spread. Two trial plots where heather has been re-established are growing well; the plots are rabbit-fenced for a period to prevent the nibbling of new shoots but the fencing will eventually be removed once the plants are established. To encourage the heather, shading scrub and trees are trimmed back regularly.

Native species

A number of conifers which act as a barrier between two holes on the course will gradually be replaced with a broadleaved species like hornbeam, which will be much more in keeping with the local habitat. In an area of the course called the Jockey Field, Terry has plans to re-create a wildflower meadow on land that was formerly used for arable farming. Native wildflowers including harebells and thyme grow in an area called the ‘dell’ – an unexpected crater in the ground rumoured to have been dug by Harpenden Town Council to stop enemy planes landing in the Second World War! The grass here is cut in the same way as the other meadow grass in areas of rough: once a year in late summer to allow the wildflowers to bloom and seed.

 

Ponds

Careful management of the golf course’s pond ensures that wildlife can thrive. Next to the green, grass at the pond’s edge is close cut, but the remaining vegetation is left to grow taller – this pond-side habitat provides excellent shelter for aquatic wildlife and the water is alive with tadpoles in the spring. “The wildlife you see here during the summer is fantastic” Terry confirms. Woodland close to the pond provides overwintering places for the frogs which breed in the pond whilst areas of adjacent rough provide feeding for dragonflies. It’s the mosaic of different habitats, providing for the different parts of life cycles that means so many species live here.

The bigger picture
 

Sympathetic management of the golf course for wildlife is an important part of the Conservation Management Plan for the whole of Harpenden Common. Creating habitat on the golf course that links to and complements habitats on the rest of the common means more room for wildlife to disperse and adapt. Councillor Bert Pawle, Chair of Harpenden Town Council’s Environment Committee, says: “We endorse and appreciate all the ongoing good work carried out on the common by Harpenden Common Golf Club, which is living proof of how a good working partnership can deliver benefits for us all. We look forward to the involvement of Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust in rolling out this next revision of the Conservation Management Plan.” Getting the balance right is vital – and clearly achievable. Terry thinks club members are persuaded too: “I’m sure, with the publicity that you see nationally about the need for biodiversity on golf courses, that the members realise it’s important.” You could argue a golf course managed this way provides challenges which help to develop some of the top talent too. Terry confirms: “We’ve got the best scratch side in Hertfordshire here, a fantastic achievement for a small club like us.”

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust is working in partnership with Harpenden Town Council on the Conservation Management Plan for Harpenden Common.