Posted by: Meg Stone, Graduate Ecological and Environmental Consultant

Managing existing trees

Trees are a great asset to have on your land. They provide habitats for numerous species, enhance the look of the landscape throughout the year and are important to us too, helping to provide the oxygen we breathe!

When you combine these benefits with the fact they store carbon, provide cooling effects, and minimise flooding, it’s easy to see why many landowners are opting to plant more trees. Before considering planting new trees, it’s important to focus on the trees we already have, and how we can best manage them and maximise their benefits.

On golf courses, it is mainly the parkland, chalk downland and heathland courses that have woodland, and rightly so, as a mosaic of various habitat types on these large expanses of land is great for biodiversity. Links courses, however, should really steer clear of trees as it is not part of a traditional sand dune system to have woodland or individual trees. Before planting any trees on your golf course, it is best to consult an ecologist and agronomist, to ensure the biodiversity and turf quality will not be negatively impacted.

Whatever the type of golf course, trees should be managed with great care, to benefit the course in the long term. Managing woodland in a sustainable way can increase biodiversity, and can can also benefit the playability of the golf course. Creating glades, for example, not only allows light to the forest floor, encouraging ground flora, but it increases airflow to the in-play surfaces which can minimise disease and waterlogging.

A good woodland has vegetation growing at different heights, such as having a multi-levelled understorey. In some areas of woodland on a golf course, understorey may not be appropriate as it can prevent air flow to the course and become difficult to manage. Instead of having understorey in these areas, you can sow shade-tolerant wildflower seed mixes, which will still increase biodiversity.
Any off cuts of wood should be carefully stacked into a pile to create log piles or if safe to do so, you can leave dead trees as standing dead wood, which creates great habitats for woodpeckers, bats and many more species. There are many golf courses that don’t like to leave piles of debris as it can look ‘messy’, but this is nature, it’s not meant to look neat and manicured like the greens and tees, so try and hold back on tidying and where possible, just let nature be.

Before removing any trees, it is best to get them checked for bat roost potential by an ecologist, otherwise you could accidentally disturb or kill these European protected species. It is a criminal offence to damage, destruct or obstruct a bat roost as it is not just the bats that are protected, but also their breeding sites and resting places. If you need to carry out work where there is no way that disturbing bats or damaging their habitats can be avoided, then you will need to apply for a licence from Natural England or your country’s equivalent environmental public body.

Planting new trees

There are many schemes and grants that incentivise planting trees to create woodland. These are great initiatives to be involved in as it might surprise you to know that only 5.5% of the UK’s land consists of native woodland. An example of a grant that golf courses can apply for is the ‘More Woods’ grant which is available from the Woodland Trust. Applications for this scheme are now open for planting new woodland of over 0.5ha between November 2023 and March 2024.

It is crucial to ensure that we plant the right trees in the right place. No matter how aesthetically pleasing a tree is, it needs to be native to be able to support native wildlife. Furthermore, there are species and habitats that already have a high ecological value and store carbon, such as ancient grassland and peatland. Rough grassland can be used by small mammals, ground nesting birds and as hunting areas for barn owls (Tyto alba). Not to mention the various invertebrate species that rely on open grassland for food and shelter.

So, prior to applying for a woodland creation grant, it is vital to have a solid understanding of the existing habitat. It is recommended that an ecological survey is conducted of the proposed woodland areas. These surveys can be carried out by an STRI ecologist and may include bird and habitat surveys. Advice can be given for the long-term management of the trees, and ensure that their locations will not impact the playability of the golf course in the future.

Managing trees can be controversial, but with the right advice and communication to members, it can be done in a sustainable way with less conflict. If you would like advice or a site visit to discuss any of the topics mentioned in this article then please don’t hesitate to get in touch at or on 07874 859857.