Ecology Bulletin

James Hutchinson is the Membership Services Manager ( Ecology & Sustainability) and writes the Ecology Roundup for Greenkeeper International. By popular demand, we include a monthly article here on the BIGGA website. If you are a BIGGA member and are interested in a visit from James, please contact him:

Golf Course Ecology Visits - November 2018

A hugely busy month of eco presentations were undertaken by your MSM for Ecology and Sustainability with approximately 120 eager-to-learn greenkeepers presented to. Scotland was first up with talks at Kilmarnock (Barassie); Bothwell Castle GC and then Liberton GC and then down to Middlesbrough GC the following week. These talks cover topics such as grassland and wildflower management, woodland ecology, wildlife encouragement, and my personal favourite, fungus and the decomposition of timber so let me know if you would like one at your golf course (for members and/ or greenkeepers).

Liberton Golf Club
Liberton Golf Club

Along with the talks, many course visits were carried out to places like Ashton in Makerfield; Caldy; Formby Ladies; Formby Men’s; Worsley and Shaw Hill with more already booked in for December - these visits always throw-up interesting sightings including grey wagtails and dippers although the grim weather has made clear photography difficult of late so we’re a bit thin on the ground in that department I’m sorry to say…maybe next month I’ll have beautiful snaps of rare and exotic birdies for your enjoyment. There were however, lots of mushrooms milling around and take a look at these terrific fescues growing at the fabulously managed Caldy GC! This is Carl the HGK modelling his and the team’s hard work. Super stuff.

Carl at Caldy
Carl at Caldy

The @Ecology1BIGGA Twitter feed has gone berserk too with goodies sent in from all four corners of the UK. Take a look at some of the great work greenkeepers have been doing recently: Ipswich GC have been managing areas for the highly elusive harvest mouse and their work has resulted in three old nests found whilst cutting the reed back.

Harvest Mouse Nest
Ipswich Golf Course - harvest mouse nest

Perennial ecologist and past Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year winner, Stephen Thompson, has been out moth trapping and here’s what he bagged…12 mottled umbers, 2 December moths and a Feathered Thorn. Keep up the ace work and we’ll see you for your talk at BTME.

Stephen Thompson's Moths
Stephen Thompson's Moths

Richard Mullen up at Banchory has a smashing success story to tell us, and that is Heather reintroduction on the golf course. Heather seeds can remain viable for up to 50 years and will germinate given the correct environmental conditions, Richard is aware of this and is in the process of managing areas for Heather so this attractive member of the Ericaceae family….and it’s working! Take a peek at these snaps and see for yourselves. First class stuff, Richard.

Richard Mullen's Heather
Richard Mullen's Heather


As always, keep the snaps coming and please feel free to contact me via Twitter or by email:

Golf Course Ecology Visits - October 2018

Welcome to the latest blog by BIGGA’s Membership Services Manager for Ecology and Sustainability.

The last three blogs have covered ways to become more sustainable and wildlife friendly. This month, however, we will be mostly concentrating on some of our recent course visits and the methods you guys are using to maintain your ecology. Hope you enjoy!

The month started off with a mammoth journey to some of the most Southern regions of England, namely Poole in Dorset (awfully warm), then off to The West and then latterly finishing up in minus degrees Scotland…. but I cared not a jot as Caledonia is as beautiful a place as you are likely to find.

Ripon City GC; Northampton GC; Saddleworth; Belfry, Broadstone, Sherbourne, Cricket St Thomas; Gloucester; Willesley Park; Wakefield; Muckhart; Shrigley Hall; RAC Club; Chipstead; Hoebridge (Environment Agency meeting) were this month’s recipients of a visit from yours truly with Wakefield taking up the offer of a full course environmental report, whereas Muckhart are seeking assistance with a reed bed washdown system.

It turns out that one or two of these smashing golf courses have a hidden-in-plain-sight rarity in the shape of an ancient tree. You may have gathered from past blogs and Twitter updates that I’m a bit of a tree hugger and that I send information to the Ancient Tree Forum (a government backed group who aim to record all our large and gnarly trees) on a regular basis. Well wait until you get a load of Northampton and Willesley Park’s biggies! These are about 600 and 1000 years old respectively – what stories do they have locked away?

Willesley's Giant Tree
Willesley's giant, 1000 year old tree



600 year old tree in Northampton
600 year old tree in Northampton

Let me know if you have an oldie on your course and I’ll record it for you.

Chipstead's Bees
Here's the hives at Chipstead - Surrey


The team at Chipstead, Surrey have four bee hives onsite and are in the process of developing larger wildflower meadows for the bees to forage in.

Two sites have been identified to be turned over from unwanted scrubland (rank grasses and old tipping grounds) this forthcoming winter (2018/ 19) and we look forward to seeing the results guys!

Cricket St Thomas in Somerset have been cracking on with a fine amount of woodland management of late which will only be of benefit to the course and its wildlife.

By removing selected trees, the chaps have allowed more air and sunlight through to the underlying grasses. The timber removed has been stacked nearby as ecopiles for saprophytes (decaying wood eaters and dwellers).

Smashing stuff!

Cricket St Thomas in Somerset
Timber stacked as ecopiles for saprophytes - Cricket St Thomas, Somerset



I never tire of the views you guys have from your offices and here’s an example why. Muckhart in Perth and Kinross are as good as you can get and the greenkeepers there are fully aware of this. One thing I often say is that it appears many trees were planted in the 1970s and are now reaching heights where they are blocking out views. That’s up to you whether you want trees or views but I always say that views are your USP (unique selling point), so do not lose them through incorrect tree choices and locations…think ahead 20 or 30 years and visualise what your course will look like after tree plantings – as mentioned, I’m a tree hugger, but only if they’re in the right place.

Muckhart's view
Muckhart's view


James Hutchinson.

Common Reed Beds - November 2018

Regulations regarding waste water here in the UK are there for a reason, namely human and habitat protection. Heavy fines and possible imprisonment (for the worst offenders) can be handed out by the Environment Agency. With this in mind, it is in a golf club’s best interests to develop a system to cleanse its waste water prior to entry into a water course or soakaway.

Numerous machines are available (which can be found in our Greenkeeper International magazine). However, if these are not suitable then BIGGA can assist by designing a reed bed for your site - BIGGA’s Sustainability Executive spent a good deal of his time researching natural methods of water remediation at BSc level and has already developed a good number of beds for our members.

Reed beds cleanse water holistically without the use of electricity, petrol and other fossil fuels by taking washdown water and using holistic phytoremediation (by means of herbs and aquatic plants to clean water) to return water back to the ground as bacteria free as possible.

Reed beds can be built in-house by the greenkeeping team and require minor yearly inputs to maintain. Costs to build, compared to other methods, are minimal and once running are an ideal habitat for small birds and invertebrates to use.

Contact James Hutchinson at: or 07767242863 for further information.

Woodland Management - December 2018

Trees, woodlands and other related areas have long been an emotive subject and one which often causes the Course Manager/Head Greenkeeper the most issues during the winter time – this does not need to be the case as BIGGA can help with the majority of issues relating to this often troublesome problem.

Historically, trees were planted as a barrier from one fairway to another or for privacy reasons and the like - this is more than acceptable at the time of planting, however, land managers, particularly members of the committee and other golf club decision makers, forget that trees grow and as such require management, usually years and years later. The trees planted in the 60s, 70s and above are now overgrown and casting shade to the turf in the surrounding area/s beneath, not to mention that, if they have not been managed in the past and were planted too close together, have grown leggy and are all reaching for sunlight – it is these trees which often fail and fall over, at the same time prior to reaching maturity, and are now a Health and Safety concern.

There’s also the matter of trees being planted as a memorial to a past member or historical event – these are far more difficult to cut down for the obvious reasons and it may be that a green or tee has to be altered to accommodate their spreading growth or replanting with similar species is undertaken.

Other factors are ancient and/or veteran trees which are far too important to the local and visitor wildlife to cut down – I have often commented in my woodland management plans that trees such as this cannot be removed, thus the underlying tee, bunker or drainage system must be relocated elsewhere nearby.

Heathland courses are now in the minority as trees were planted onsite generations ago. Heathlands are equally as important for invertebrates and of course, golf play.

The point I am making here is that BIGGA can help with tricky woodland scenarios where a decision cannot be reached within the club. There is always a middle ground where we can meet.

Wildflowers - January 2019

After the long and really dry summer we have had here in the UK, it is nearly time to manage your wildflowers so you can have a bumper crop next year. But how are you going do it? Here are a few tips to be going on with:

Firstly, you have to check whether you have any nesting birds or other such critters nestling down in the flowers. As we are aiming for a mid-autumn cut just after the flowers have finished, it is unlikely you will have any, but it’s always best to check isn’t it.

After you are happy there are no nesters, beat the wildflowers to remove the majority of the seeds. Depending on the size of the area, this can be done manually with a simple stick – what we are after at this point is to be sure we are giving the area the best chance of recovery next season by placing more seeds on the ground.

Next task is to cut the area with a suitable cut and collect machine. It is imperative that as much organic matter is removed at this point; we do not want decomposing material lying on the surface as next seasons shoots will not be able to break through. If possible, the cut material should be allowed to dry undercover as there will still be a good number of seeds here – this can be used next season on new areas. If your course does not have a suitable machine then manual strimming down to ground level will suffice, but be sure to rake off any overlying material and dispose of it correctly.

When the area is cut and removed, then a light verticut should be undertaken. This will give the underlying seeds the best chance of survival next year, as many wildflowers are gentle and will not tolerate too much competition from grasses. If a verticut machine is not available then a hand rake with a spring bok or other such hand tool will be acceptable. At this point, we are not interested in deep scarification and the removal of matter. All that is required is to give the wildflower seeds a base of soil-to-seed contact. It is also important that the seeds are not buried but preferably lie on the surface where they will take root next spring.

I hear at so many golf courses that “we did try to grow wildflowers a few years ago. The first year was great; the second was poor and the third we had only grasses”. I feel that most new wildflower meadows on golf courses are left to nature when built. They always fail! What you should be aiming for is to try and mimic animal grazing i.e. the cut and remove method. Give it a go – what do you have to lose when the ground is hard with frost and you cannot get onto the course to do maintenance? Head over to the wildflower meadow and cut it down.

There are of course more factors to consider such as choice of flower, pH, drainage, available light and so on. However, and as always, I am here to help BIGGA members become more wildlife friendly and sustainable. Let me know if I can assist.

James Hutchinson.



Birds - February 2019

Wait until you get a load of the fab sightings and eco goings on of BIGGA members of late – absolute rippers they are and it appears that 2019 picks up where 2018 left off…lots of wildlife projects from the UK’s greenkeepers!

Firstly however, your MSM for Ecology and Sustainability (James Hutchinson) has been on the road looking at ways of managing your places of work for the benefit of nature. Clitheroe; Altrincham; Garstang; Harrogate; Alwoodley; Hunley; Crewe and Moortown had visits with both Clitheroe and Crewe taking up our services in the forms of full course eco report/ plan for their respective golf courses – looking forward to working with you guys! BTW, if you ever find yourself at the stunning Clitheroe GC then spend some time looking in the tall hedgerow in the carpark…choc full of birdies it is including long-tailed, blue and great tits, thrushes, chaffinches and blackbirds.

Blackbird at Clitheroe
Clitheroe's Blackbird.

Still on the subject of our feather friends, one of the most secretive birds in Scotland made an appearance for Les Rae of Montrose GC a few weeks ago. A water rail showed up on the pond adjacent to the courses and hung around long enough for its photo taken. These birds are hugely shy and stay hidden in the reeds for the most part. Great snap, Les!

Les Rae's Water Rail
Les Rae's Water Rail.

In other feathered related news, Jim Fancey, Southwick Park GC’s Course Manager sent us a pic of an injured bird which one of his members collected from the course after it came in second place after a punch up with some crows. The falcon is now in the hands of the RSPB so keep us informed when you see it again, Jim.

Jim Fancey's Peregrine
Jim Fancey's Peregrine.

If you feel inclined to help our birds out then you can take a leaf out of these chaps book and erect nest boxes in the woodlands or the maintenance facility building. Vale Royal and Rothes GC’s sent us these belters whilst Scott Corrigan has a mahoosive collection of starling boxes ready to go up. Here’s an interrsting fact about starlings, they eat chafers and leatherjackets whilst aerating the upper soil horizon – how about that! Natures very own pesticide right there. The hard part is attracting them to your course – a good place to start is communal nest boxes, just like Scott’s!

Vale Royal Golf Club's Kestrel Box
Vale Royal Golf Club's Kestrel Box.
Rothes Nest Boxes
Rothes Nest Boxes.
Scott Corrigan's Starling Boxes.
Scott Corrigan's Starling Boxes.

Not content on helping out the birds, the guys at Rothes GC have made this this beauty of a hedgepig habitat box. Wonderful stuff and please keep us informed if Mrs Tiggywinkle moves in guys - these prickly gaffers need all the help they can get.

Rothes Hedgepig House
Rothes Hedgepig House

Keep them coming.

James Hutchinson, Membership Services Manager – Ecology and Sustainability.



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