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Consider a landscape management approach – Taylor talks

Ecology, Environments, Features / 14th February 2018

by Bob Taylor, STRI’s head of ecology and environment

Following my presentation at this year’s BTME, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the subjects of landscape scale management, and a more integrated approach to golf course management.

It is important for those of us that work in the golf industry to understand land management outside the confines of the golf course, and consider how our actions on the golf course could impact the wider environment. In this edition of ‘Taylor Talks’, I will be concentrating on a ‘landscape approach to management’. 


Owl box at Blyth Golf Club

Owl box high in tree canopy at Blyth Golf Club. High canopy woodland connects the differing landscapes.


A landscape approach

A ‘landscape approach’ to management essentially deals with large scale processes in an integrated and multidisciplinary manner, combining natural resource management with sustainability, environmental and livelihood considerations. We within the golf industry can benefit from this immeasurably, we can weave these environmental and sustainability issues into all aspects of course management to the greater benefit of the golf club. Okay let’s start:

There are over 3,200 golf courses around the UK. This equates to around 150,000 hectares, which is approximately 1% of Britain’s total land area. Approximately 1,650,000 hectares of land around Britain is maintained as nature reserves. This includes Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), national and local nature reserves, Special Protection Areas (SPA), internationally protected Ramsar wetland sites and RSPB sites. This makes up approximately 15% of Britain’s total land area. However, these nature reserves are generally isolated and are not numerous or extensive enough to safeguard more than a fraction of the wildlife in this country. They need to be connected with other green spaces and land such as railway/roadside verges and marginal woodland, and golf courses can provide this important connectivity. This is where a more integrated approach to landscape management comes in.

Landscape management usually involves collaboration amongst different groups of land managers and stakeholders so that the multiple objectives and expectations of all concerned are discussed and, importantly, achieved. The golf club may be able to help facilitate community management projects, assist with the provision of equipment, and promote outdoor learning through stronger engagement with local schools.


Tir Gwyllt (wild land) at Abergele Golf Club

An aerial image of Tir Gwyllt (wild land) at Abergele Golf Club, winners of Outstanding Environmental Project of the Year in the 2018 Golf Environment Awards.


Golf pros

Golf is without doubt the most proactive industry within sport, building an enviable reputation for its sustainable and environmental footprint. Turfgrass, water, waste and energy management, and the wider habitat management, will always remain first priorities for the golf club, but viewing these in isolation may limit the future sustainability of the golf club. Clubs are now starting to look at how their courses fit into the wider environment, and how management is helping conservation interests. To get started at your golf club, ask the following questions:

  • Is your course close to a SSSI, SAC or SPA?
  • Do you have protected species utilising the wider area?
  • What are the habitat types in the surrounding landscape?
  • Does your course abut parks, agricultural land or areas of woodland?
  • Is there connectivity from the course to habitat patches in the local area? 
  • Are there waterbodies or wetlands on your course and in surrounding areas? 
  • What is the underlying geology in the area, and what drainage issues could that cause?
  • What management techniques are used in the local area?

Here at STRI, we now use drone technology to help us quickly understand landscape topography. Aerial mapping allows us to build up a clear picture of current landscape conditions, including ecological stress, areas of drought, erosion and drainage. It can also indicate which areas are well managed and flourishing. On the golf course, drone images can be used to identify areas of turf stress and disease, wear and tear, shade problems and so on. 


Children sowing wildflower seed at Kingsdown Golf Club

Local school children getting involved with wildflower seed sowing at Kingsdown Golf Club, winner of Operation Pollinator at Golf Environment Awards 2018


Working together

Once characteristics of the wider landscape have been assessed, golf clubs can work in conjunction with the wider community, local landowners, businesses, environmental groups and the council, to come up with a holistic approach to management. For example, if habitat connectivity is poor, creating wildlife corridors across the golf course would do little to improve the movement of wildlife throughout the entire area if adjoining landowners are not doing the same. 

Once a wider landscape level management strategy has been considered, we can start to look at the golf course’s role within that strategy and develop ways of streamlining all operational aspects for improved efficiency, sustainability and conservation gain. This will form the subject of the next Taylor Talks.

Carnoustie Golf Links, Winners of ‘Environmental Golf Course of the Year’ at this year’s Golf Environment Awards, provide a perfect example of a golf club adopting a landscape approach to course management. Click here for information on their Landscape Character Assessment (LCA), or below to read their Environmental Guide to the classic links course.


Environmental Guide


Looking ahead

As we move into the future, golf will need to adapt. We will need to become part of the community accepted as a vital element in the health, well-being and prosperity of the area.


If this subject interests you, then feel free to contact me via info@strigroup.com, or my Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn accounts to discuss further. Golf’s future, although complex, depends upon us all becoming increasingly proactive, moving forward to the benefit of the community, not just the golf club.