URBAN COURSES BENEFIT BIODIVERSITY
Urban areas are di cult places for wild plants and animals to thrive, despite evidence that their presence promotes the sustainability and liveability of urban settings.While authorities expend public nances to provide green spaces, trees and nature areas, in growing cities there is demand to convert these into built-up areas. Most public green spaces are small.
In contrast, golf provides larger areas of green space of which sizeable portions are out-of-play areas with low human impact. And golf clubs have the budget to sustain them.This makes them important areas for biodiversity conservation within cities.
Golf clubs surveyed in England reported a higher number and species of birds, bees, beetles and trees than in neighbouring farmland.With this in mind we sought to investigate whether biodiversity is part of the remit of local golf course objectives and concerns by visiting several clubs in the Eastern Cape.
The average size of Eastern Cape urban courses is 34 hectares; the area of 43 courses being 1 461 hectares.Two-thirds comprise rough and treed areas between fairways.Thus, of a typical 34ha course, 22ha experiences little gol ng activity.
On 12 courses we examined vegetation in the rough and wooded areas, and found the number of tree and shrub species ranged from eight to 28; indigenous species from zero to 86%. Every course had non-indigenous species, including at least one invasive alien which under current legislation has to be removed. Two courses had up to six such species.
The number of di erent tree and shrub species per course was positively related to e orts to promote indigenous species, the number of members and course sta , and experience of greenkeepers. Wealthier clubs haven anci al resources which can contribute to better biodiversity outcomes.
We interviewed the course manager or greenkeeper at each of the 12 courses. Half self-rated themselves as having none (33%) or little (17%) understanding of the term ‘biodiversity’ and the other half had a moderate (17%) or good (33%) understanding.
Irrespective, all agreed that urban courses can play a role in biodiversity conservation. Asked to rank the importance of high plant diversity on courses, 59% believed it important, 33% of medium importance, and 8% not important. None had received any formal training on biodiversity. Most obtained information about course management from magazines, the internet and word of mouth, and lamented that much of it came from Europe and North America.There was little information about biodiversity.
Three of the 12 courses had biodiversity conservation objectives in place, focusing on the removal of non-native vegetation and increasing native trees. Eight greenkeepers responded positively when asked if they would like more done to promote biodiversity. Challenges included money, limited water and “more committed management.”
Our results show limited understanding but willingness. Besides the aesthetic appeal high plant diversity brings to a course, some greenkeepers are aware of how it may contribute to a healthier ecosystem. Course managers should seek advice from quali ed and experienced professionals or conservation agencies.As a starting point, we recommend: ▶ Discuss biodiversity within the club committee and commit to becoming a biodiversity friendly course. ▶ Identify and remove invasive alien plants. ▶ Promote indigenous species. ▶ Limit disturbance to out-of-play areas. ▶ Leave dead trees unless they pose a danger to golfers. ▶ Implement amphibian friendly fringes to water features. ▶ Minimise use of pesticides. ▶ Provide bird nest boxes. ▶ Tag the names of trees in prominent places.
Nature thrives at Elements Private Reserve in Limpopo.