Wildlife and Nature Conservation

Golf courses can be an integral part of rural landscapes or can offer islands of wildlife habitat in large urban areas.  Golf courses cover 1% of UK land, and as 40 – 60% of the golf course is out of play, this represents a significant land resource that can potentially be made available for wildlife protection and nature conservation.  In addition, many golf clubs have found that a naturalistic golf course environment which is attractive for wildlife is also generally more attractive to golfers.


This Nature Conservation and Wildlife Resource Section examines the management of out of play habitats for golf and for wildlife: woodlands; hedgerows; grasslands; heathlands and water features.

1. Woodlands

Large woodlands, smaller copses and individual trees provide visual interest on the golf course and may be used to provide focal points to the back of greens to enable golfers to line and position shots or as separation between golf holes.  Strategically, they can be used as gateways to increase challenge or used to create doglegs.  Trees and hedgerows also provide screening and security

Woodlands and hedgerows are also an important wildlife habitat and adding new plantations can be an easy way of diversifying the habitat types on the golf course, assuming new trees would not replace valuable existing habitat and are appropriately planted and managed.

This Woodland Resource Section looks at how to manage existing woodlands and hedgerows for golf and wildlife and how to extend the lifespan of strategic woodlands.  It also provides advice on creating new woodlands and hedgerows, including tree spacings, species choice and aftercare.


2. Hedgerows

A hedgerow is row of trees and shrubs that have been managed to form dense, protective habitat that provide food and shelter for birds and small mammals.  Hedgerows often support a diverse flora at their base and may be punctuated by individual trees that have been allowed to grow to reach full height.

Hedgerows are also the natural ‘motorways’ of the countryside and birds, invertebrates and small mammals use hedgerows to move between other habitats in order to feed, breed and escape predation.  Many country hedges have been removed to increase agricultural yields and are a diminishing resource.  A well managed hedgerow can also form a useful barrier to increase security and safety at the golf club.

This resource section provides advice on planting new hedgerows as well as caring for existing hedgerows.


3. Grassland management

Introducing rough grassland to a golf course can be a simple way to provide strategy and definition, while increasing the amount and quality of grassland on the golf course provides more opportunities for wildlife. 

This resource section covers the benefits of rough grassland, the types of grassland found on golf courses and the principles of grassland management to ensure maximum benefit for wildlife and compatibility with golfing play.


4. Heathland habitats

Heathland is fundamentally a transitional habitat: it is not the end point of natural succession and must be maintained through human intervention.  Heathland habitat was created through forest clearance for agriculture thousands of years ago.  Removing the protective tree cover left the soil exposed, leading to nutrient leaching and acidification of the soil. This impoverished soil was colonised by acid-loving dwarf shrubs such as heather, gorse, broom and bilberry with supporting acid grassland dominated by species such as purple moor grass and matt grass.  The presence of woodland elements such as bracken and pioneer tree species such as silver birch are signs of the continual transition of the site towards a woodland community.

Over time the birds, insects and mammals that adapted to the new heathland environment have become dependent on it.   Many heathland species can survive in several different habitats, but some, such as Dartford warbler, woodlark, slow worms and smooth snake, can live only within heathland habitat.

The well-drained soils which support heathland habitats are inherently suitable for golf. Similarly, heathland plants can thrive in a golf course environment, where low vegetation is required close to play and where golf course presentation requires that the vegetation be maintained in good health.  However, while a golf course can provide a niche for heathland plants, there are significant threats to heather and heathland plants on golf courses, e.g. example trampling pressure, grass, gorse and bracken encroachment, tree and shrub regeneration, inappropriate cutting regimes and ill-advised tree planting.

This resources section looks at the management of heathland elements on golf courses: heather, gorse, bracken and heathland trees.


5. Ponds and lakes

Ponds and lakes are the water features commonly found within golf courses and this Resource Section focuses on these water features only, though much of the advice may also apply to other types of water feature.

Ponds and lakes add to the diversity of habitats on the golf course and can also be functional, perhaps used to store water for irrigation of to slow water flow and reduce flooding or used to cleanse and purify polluted water before it is released into the wider water environment. 


6. Wildlife and nature conservation legislation

This section lists environmental legislation relevant to wildlife and nature conservation on golf courses and provides information on how golf clubs can comply with this legislation.  For example, many rare and vulnerable plants and animals, i.e. species with a very low or rapidly declining population, are protected by law.   The Joint Nature Conservancy Council (JNCC) provides a searchable database of protected species, including details of their conservation status and the legislative origin of their protection, and this is an excellent source of up to date information. 

This list of legislation relevant to nature and wildlife conservation should be considered comprehensive but not exhaustive.  All legislation information is correct as of January 2011.  Legislation changes regularly and golf clubs should check the news section of the greener golf website for information on important changes.