by Bob Taylor, STRI’s head of ecology and environment
There are always occasions in our life, or in our work, that cause us to stop, look and consider where we are and how we arrived. More importantly these triggers provide an opportunity for us to look at where we may go next. STRI’s ecology and environment department is at that stage as I write.
STRI’s ecology consultant, Sophie Vukelic’s, stars have recently become aligned such that she feels that it’s time for her to move on to a new job outside the sport and amenity sectors, and concentrate on pure ecology work.
Sophie’s love has always been in finding and identifying wildlife, and like myself, she is first and foremost a naturalist. Sophie is very well-liked by her colleagues and clients, and I wish her well in her new venture and hope she can capitalise on her interests further.
So, as we look ahead to welcoming new members to STRI’s ecology and environment team, lets just take a minute to reflect upon how far we have come.
When I started a crusade, 30-years ago, to make the world aware that golf courses can be a very positive use of land, I put massive attention on the need for appropriate management, and balanced this with the demands and priorities of the game.
Over the last few years we have seen many golf clubs realising the benefits of cutting and scarifying to develop a more playable rough. Unfortunately, these techniques are being adopted extensively in the belief that such work is universally beneficial, which is not the case.
The fringing rough should be used to improve ball location just off the playing line. It can also be very beneficial to thin the cover to encourage growth of wildflowers for the benefit of our declining bees.
However, thinning the grassland will have a detrimental impact on other wildlife, such as newts, small mammals, spiders, and snails. So whilst there is a place for such management techniques, these must be undertaken in consideration of the local ecosystem.
Recently we have seen a massive increase in the number of beehives being introduced on our golf courses. When Operation Pollinator was first launched, the emphasis was on securing habitat for the conservation of our native bees.
I have always stated that beekeeping can provide an aid to communicating the plight of our British bees, and demonstrating the need for specific habitat management to members.
However, with so many beekeeping facilities starting up, we are likely to see increased competition for available food sources and a further decline in our native bee populations.
An extension of the above is the provision of bug hotels.
These are great for communicating the plight of our declining invertebrates, but they are not a replacement for providing good habitat. This means we need to be better at managing the land we have, rather than managing for tidiness or for thinner grassland, and then enhancing with bug hotels and bird boxes.
Don’t get me wrong, these enhancements are important and I have written a book specifically about nest boxes (copies available by contacting me direct), but nothing can substitute good management, and this is where advice is needed.
So moving on, we will be recruiting for a new Ecology Consultant. A multi-talented, likeable person, who is able to cultivate good relationships. One who understands the game of golf, has experience in habitat management, including grasslands, woodlands, water features and in general ecological functioning. Not a big ask if you say it fast! Most of all they must be approachable.
I think it was Bill Gates who said, “every complaint should be seen as an opportunity” and following his reasoning, “every negative should be seen as a positive,” I look forward to the challenges ahead, and to the changes that we may all need to embrace as we enter the next phase of golf – into 2030 and beyond. That’s only 12 years away!