A club where birdies are par for the course

In our guest blog today Billy McLachlin, course manager at Royal Troon Golf Club, tells us how they are working for wildlife on one of the world’s finest links courses.

Royal Troon Golf Club is a site of international renown as habitat for that not-altogether-rare species, the golfer.  Less well known, perhaps, is its importance to coastal plants and animals.  As a classic links course, its greens, tees and fairways lie among areas of dune grassland, which here supports wildflowers like wild carrot, burnet rose and kidney vetch.  The dunes are of such botanical interest that much of the golf course is designated as the Troon Golf Links & Foreshore Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The dune vegetation, in turn, supports a great variety of wildlife, including birds, butterflies and bees.  At Royal Troon, we have long appreciated the value of the golf course to wildlife, and have carried out several surveys of birds and butterflies across the course in recent years (reports can be found on our website).  Butterflies seen around the course include the common blue, small heath, ringlet and orange-tip.  These thrive despite the risk of being eaten by some of the many birds that breed here, with skylarks and meadow pipits frequenting the grassland areas, and other small birds like whitethroats, sedge warblers, linnets and stonechat hanging out in areas of scrub.

Stonechat - (C)Laurie Campbell/SNH

Stonechat – (C)Laurie Campbell/SNH

Although the areas of rough around the course may look relatively wild and untouched, we put in a considerable effort to make the most of their natural qualities and keep them in a good state for the special wildlife that depends on them.  Before the land became a golf course in 1878 it would have been grazed by livestock, helping to maintain open dune grassland and prevent scrub from encroaching.  In the absence of grazing, there is a tendency for the grassland to become tall and dense, and eventually to be overtaken scrub and trees.  While some scrub and tree cover provides valuable cover and nest sites for birds, too much would be damaging.  The many insects that favour dunes and dune grasslands will thrive best where the vegetation is relatively short and open, with small patches of bare sand between the plants that act as ‘sun traps’ and allow the insects to get warm enough to forage effectively.  Many of the insects also need access to bare sand where they can dig burrows for nesting.  These insects are, in turn, food for many of the birds that live here, so making the habitats good for insects helps our feathered friends too.

Pool & bee logs

pool and bee logs

Over the last few years we have removed large areas of invasive scrub, mainly gorse but also the non-native Japanese rose and sea buckthorn.  Cleared areas have largely been left to recover naturally, and we quickly see these areas being colonised by a variety of flowering plants.  Elsewhere, with advice from SNH, we are trialling various techniques to open up areas of grassland that have become overgrown and lacking in botanical diversity.  In some areas strimming is used to reduce vegetation height and density.  Elsewhere, we have taken a more heavy-duty approach, using a small digger and bucket to remove patches of turf and create small sand ‘scrapes’.  Last but not least, one of our more creative greenkeepers has created a multi-storey ‘bee hotel’ (pictured), with a waterproof roof and a range of materials suitable for various types and sizes of solitary bees to use for nesting.

Together these various measures should make the golf course an even better place for wildlife.  On top of that, by removing scrub, opening up views and encouraging wildlife to thrive, we hope that Royal Troon will become an even nicer place to play golf.

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