Wildlife at The Home of Golf

Wildlife at The Home of Golf

The Home of Golf is an extraordinary place - not just for the obvious reasons - but for the vast amount of wildlife diversity on offer.

Take the lesser known Strathtyrum Course.

Most of this particular gem is built on reclaimed farmland and as a result is liberated by interesting grasses, wildflowers, trees and all sorts of wonderful wildlife. Or, the charming but demanding Jubilee Course with its sand dominated horizons and tall dune systems. There’s also the small matter of the world famous Old Course and the Swilcan Burn which houses birds such as northern wheatears, grey wagtails and a kingfisher! Whichever wildlife you take an interest in then the chances are that they can be found on or around one of the seven golf courses.

It would be a very long process to tell you about all the wildlife, ecology, conservation and environmental practices we have on the go, so I’ve chosen a few snippets.

Castle Course

You could argue that the Castle’s wetland habitat has been a resounding success since the course opened in 2008, so much so the team were nominated for Outstanding Environmental Project of the Year in the STRI Awards.

The wetland habitat includes a pond, a couple of lowland marshes, numerous attractive small bridges and a diverse collection of aquatic plants which are a welcome attraction to the UK’s water residing critters including moorhens and the elusive water rail.

The course is not only home to an interesting aquatic project but is also a place where northern marsh orchid and pixie cup lichens grow in abundance – both are fantastic to see in bloom. There have also been 38 different species of bird noted from September to November.

There are three deer and literally hundreds of mice and shrews. We’ve erected a kestrel box at the far end of the course in the hope of attracting a family to the banquet which is on offer!

The Eden and Strathtyrum’s Operation Pollinator areas:

Wild carrot, birds foot trefoil, yellow rattle, ribwort plantain, Bush vetch, rough hawkbit, white clover, harebell, restharrow, self-heal, scabious, common sorrel, sweet vernal grass, false-oat grass and upright bent can all be found growing on one of the 3000m² operation pollinator areas and I can tell you that the bees, hoverflies and butterflies are really grateful for such a proactive project!

The team are now in the process of cutting, removing and verticutting a huge portion of their operation pollinator project thus ensuring next year’s growth is as successful as the previous year’s growth. There are two owl boxes and a selection of smaller nest boxes on the Strathtyrum too, and in November a peregrine falcon was sighted alongside the resident kestrel.

The Balgove

The Balgove is small but not without its eco credentials. The 3rd green heads straight towards the Old Tom Morris building (which has an eco-friendly sedum roof) and the area to the rear of the 3rd green has patches of coarse and fine grasses which grow at different rates. So, the plan was to incorporate heather from seed for both ecological and visual purposes.

The seed is locally sourced, in fact you probably couldn’t get any more local as it was harvested from the Eden Course which is a stone’s throw away! The Balgove is also home to one of our Barenbrug seed trial plots which looks at ways of minimising water and fertiliser usage within new grass species.

Old Course Heather and Fungi

During November we undertook a two hour forage on the Old with our resident expert and uncovered variety of fungi including suede bolete, scaly wood, witch’s hat and many others.

The fungi seem to be far more plentiful on the Old Course for one very simple reason: it is actually an old course! It’s been in its location for a very long time and as such has built up a good amount of mychorizal relationships within the fungi and the vegetation which resides there. These symbiotic relationships can often take years to develop and as a result need little or no disturbance to flourish. This results in a vast and diverse array of fruits throughout the autumnal months – many of which are edible but I really would leave identifying these varieties to the experts.

The heather on the Old has taken a bashing due to the amount of play (heather will not tolerate too much trampling and including caddies there are over 60,000 rounds annually). This is not the only factor affecting this attractive plant - the heather beetle has been eating its way through patches of our heather too.

We are tackling this issue by removing as much thatch and moss from beneath the affected heather therefore removing as much of the beetle’s overwintering larvae as possible. We do this by hand rather than spraying pesticides as this is not good environmental practice, and we would run the risk of damaging the population of any other invertebrates which makes our heather their home.

However, our heather seed harvesting from healthy plants has proven to be quite successful of late with a great number of greenkeepers helping out with seed collection. We are incorporating them into the more out-of-play areas, thus assisting the UK’s declining bee species in their plight for survival. Ground nesting birds including the grey partridge, skylark and lapwing (all of which are regulars to the courses and are all on the RSPB’s Red List Species) will use heather as a nest site.

New and Jubilee Courses

Sand martins are noted to be in decline as their wintering grounds often succumb to severe drought conditions. This has a knock on effect on the martins on the East coast of Scotland, so we are undertaking one or two nest reinstating areas on the New and Jubilee courses to assist in helping these fantastic birds.

I say ‘reinstating’ as I recently discovered that martins used to use the sand faces of low lying blowouts prior to them growing over with gorse. We recently exposed the aforementioned areas to bare sand and incorporated old drainage pipes cut to 25cm to attract them.

On the Jubilee Course is the Links Trust’s main organic recycling station which houses a selection of windrow composting lines. We produce tons of useable material per year which is subsequently given away to the local community’s farms and households. This is impressive, but the part I find most interesting is the sheer amount of birdlife present at the station.

Goldfinches, linnets, house sparrows, sparrowhawks and kestrels can be found, and there have been numerous sightings of a great grey shrike. At the end of the Jubilee are a family of sea eagles which were once extinct in Scotland; they were reintroduced in 2007 and according to Fife’s Countryside Ranger seem to be settling in and have recently raised a juvenile.

The St Andrews Links Trust works closely with the environmental governing bodies in the area including Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Marine Scotland and the Local Nature Reserves. An excellent example of this teamwork can be found on West Sands (where they filmed the opening scenes of Chariots of Fire and also part of the Rowan Atkinson sketch at the opening of the London Olympics).

Occasionally, the high tide and easterly winds drive the sea into the dunes creating what we call blowouts which is what happens when the sea retreats taking the sand dune with it. When this is the case, we offer a team of greenkeepers, tractors, trailers and digging equipment to move tons of sand from the beach to the mobile dune system which surrounds the town and the golf courses. This is done under license from Marine Scotland and in conjunction with Scottish Natural Heritage.

The dunes are fenced off to help trap windblown sand and also to protect them from erosion by humans. The Countryside Ranger assisted by volunteers subsequently plants the newly created dunes with marram grass to further stabilise the area – a huge amount of work. Is it worth it? Well, the dunes are home to the increasingly rare snow bunting – so the answer is yes.

There’s much more going on including the flock of hebredian sheep which mow the fenced off area to the North Sea side of the Jubilee Course thus reducing fossil fuel costs for the Fife Council and consequently creating an ideal habitat for the highly vocal skylark. There’s the bird feeding station which regularly attracts a diverse bunch of feathered beauties to the nuts on offer.

So, whichever wildlife you take an interest in then the chances are that they can be found on or around one of the seven golf courses here at St Andrews!