Taking responsibility at St Andrews Links

Taking responsibility at St Andrews Links
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

As part of its sustainability efforts, St Andrews Links Trust adopts the principles of Operation Pollinator, a biodiversity programme initiated by agrochemicals firm Syngenta. The programme aims to help boost the number of pollinating insects on farms and golf courses by creating special habitats tailored to local conditions and native insects.

“We have a responsibility as operators, owners or custodians to both protect and enhance the flora and fauna of the sites we own or manage, but it should be done appropriately and in keeping with that course’s environment,” says Gordon Moir, director of greenkeeping for St Andrews Links Trust. “There are substantial areas on most golf courses which are not required to be managed for golf. Why not manage them to the benefit of the environment?”

St Andrews Links has been involved with the programme for five years, expanding the areas of the site that are pollinated and supportive of native plants and wildlife. 

“We now have around 1.7 hectares of areas in total around the courses which are predominately wildflowers, but with fine links grasses growing through them,” says Moir. “Most of the areas are on the Eden and Strathtyrum courses, as that is where we had the most room, although there are some areas up at the Castle course. They are all well away from golf – or should be from any decent golf shot!”

As part of its efforts, St Andrews Links has recently introduced six new beehives, and the trust is working in partnership with specialists PlanBee to help monitor the insects’ progress in pollinating the course. 

“The hives have been placed adjacent to the wildflower areas, as they’ll be a great source of nectar near at hand,” Moir says. “Next year should see them pollinate these flowers and others around the courses and neighbouring farms. The hives and bees shouldn’t interfere with golfers unless disturbed. The bees have enough work of their own to carry out without bothering with golfers!”

One hive is on the Castle course and is next to an area where staff have sown out wildflower and cereal mix.

“This is to attract corn buntings and help them by providing winter feeding,” says Moir. “This is a project we’re carrying out with the RSPB, linking corridors of land across north-east Fife for corn buntings.”

Though the St Andrews Trust is always keen to look at what it can do to add diversity of the local fauna and flora, Moir says the amount of golf played doesn’t make that an easy task. 

“We’d love to be able to increase the amount of heather across the site, but that’s proved difficult to accomplish the last 10 years,” he says. “We’ve recently introduced some bare sand areas and we’re going to expand these a little over the next two winters and try to find a permanent summer home for the sand martins which visit annually.”

With so many species at risk today due to increased development or changing practices, Moir says that having a more environmentally-friendly approach can be both efficient and positive for the game as a whole.

“It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money – in fact by reducing inputs it can save on money by reducing cutting or introducing ‘no spray’ zones,” he says. “Golf doesn’t always get a good press from an environmental aspect, so programmes such as Operation Pollinator are a way of highlighting that we do care about the environment.”

This article first appeared in issue 50 of Golf Course Architecture