GOING WILD ON THE GOLF COURSE
From badgers to barn owls, the wildlife around the greens and fairways of Stonyhurst golf course is thriving, writes Club Secretary Mike Gledhill. Photography: Barry Bolton
or regular golfers at Stonyhurst Park Golf Club, seeing wild deer roaming the course, kingfishers hovering over the pond and birds of prey soaring in the sky above, is nothing unusual.
The wildlife around the course is diverse and in the 1970s golf balls would also regularly bounce off grazing sheep when the course was shared with them and low voltage electric fencing was placed around the greens to stop them going there. Now the course is exclusively used for golfing and has a diverse range of woodland, meadowland and grasses to attract wildlife and the Golf Club Council are keen to keep that balance right with the College. We have deliberately left certain areas on the course to grow long during the summer to attract wildlife including brown hare and voles. These have increased as a consequence and attracted small birds of prey.
Although a minority of non-golfers think golf spoils a good walk, it is very important to the club to co-exist with the wildlife, enhancing and enriching the game of golf. Modern golfing is about the all round experience, including conversation about the wildlife not just about the game. A public footpath runs alongside the edge of part of the course, allowing walkers to also enjoy the area.
Past Captain John Hodkinson was recently involved in an initiative to commission an orchard on the course to commemorate loved ones, in conjunction with the Hurst Green Community and the College.
He explained: “Whilst golfers tee off on the seventh between the orchard on both sides of the fairway, the colour, flowers and fruit of this recently planted area will be a source of interest to bees, butterfly and insects. The roe deer have also been paying close attention to it and unfortunately damaged bark on some of the young trees, but we have put more protection around the trees and are planting further trees to the area, which is now being called Orchard Drive.
“We want this place to be an area of tranquility and serenity where members can enjoy the stunning view at the 7th hole and perhaps take a second to remember past friends or relatives.”
When all the golfers have packed their clubs away and left the course, the sun sets and nighttime falls. This is when Stonyhurst Greens Chairman and keen amateur photographer Barry Bolton, who has lived in the area for over 30 years, watches some of the nocturnal animals enjoy the course. Last year a badger took an interest in the 14th tee and rotivated all the turf around the front edge looking for grubs. Whilst the barn owls normally hunt at night they have been seen in the daytime when they have young to feed. Barry got a great shot taken with a night camera showing the barn owl getting ready to hunt early morning.
“I have also tracked the growth of a pair of kestrels nesting in a tree for the last 10 years and I have captured the young learning to fly from the tree to the wall,” he said.
Across the globe there can be more challenging wildlife on golf courses such as reptiles in Florida or South Africa. I have personal experience of seagulls stealing three of our four golf balls after we had teed off in Lanzarote. One was seen circling around a large water lake and dropped the ball into the lake when it had decided it couldn’t be eaten! Thankfully our wildlife, whilst on the course at Stonyhurst, have not taken to stealing the golf balls yet.
There also has to be an element of pest control when, for example, mole hills appear on the fairway as there are no natural predators for this species. Consideration also has to be given when treating the fairways and greens to ensure the use of fungicides that are not harmful to wildlife.
There is nothing more relaxing than playing a round of golf in the peaceful environment at Stonyhurst whilst observing the wildlife, including the pheasants, as they watch us lining up our next shot.
Stonyhurst Park Golf Club
Hurst Green, Blackburn BB7 9QB