Tee-ing things up for nature

When it comes to helping nature you have to hand it to John Milne, head greenkeeper at Rothes Golf Club. He was recently nominated for the Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year by the Golf Environment Awards, and prides himself on making his course as pollinator-friendly as possible.

John Milne 1John is well-travelled and has experience of golf courses stretching from Scotland to Cyprus, Mallorca and Australia. Now settled near his home town of Elgin he knows the Rothes course particularly well –  he played it as a boy and worked here back in 2003.

What measures has he taken to help pollinators?  The main step has been to ease back on mowing some areas around the rough. This has allowed a host of native wildflowers to gain a foothold and the species count has soared as a result. For example last summer John could celebrate an attractive blaze of yarrow and harebell in an area where the small change of just stopping continual mowing was creating a big impact.

A glance at the Rothes green keeping facebook page shows an impressive array of flowers and insects.  Bumblebees of various varieties, hoverflies, moths, orange-tip butterflies and goodly number of ringlets vie for attention in what is a homage to golf and nature. Some of those species you might expect. Perhaps less so the regular seasonal sighting of mining bees.

If you were to list the pollinator-friendly plants on John’s golf course you would be compiling a lengthy list – thistles, ladies smock (cuckoo flower), devil’s bit scabious are just a few of the plants that now flourish here.

By embedding a bug hotel into the building of a new tee John was hoping to snatch an opportunity to create a home for wildlife, and the inclusion of softer touches like the bird feeders within clear view of the clubhouse are another welcome addition. As with anything in life there are few guarantees of success, but by being willing to try different approaches John increases his chances of helping biodiversity and engages others with the subject.

Creation of good habitat is one thing, managing it is another aspect. Cutting and lifting, excessive sunshine or rain, these are typical challenges in improving the ecological performance of rough grass areas. And of course John is all the while balancing improving the aesthetics of the golf course, with seeking to increase biodiversity and maintaining a sound level of play-ability.

Aggressive grass growing conditions, and a lack of equipment, can mean that John has to step back in time and revert to traditional man-hours and hard labour to tackle the rough.  It was a herculean exercise of this nature that has got John considering the merits of planting yellow rattle in order to tackle the sward more naturally (yellow rattle being a native plant which is parasitic on grass roots, known as a ‘meadow-maker’,  and will suppress grass growth).



With these levels of commitment and planning it is little wonder that John was highly delighted to get a glowing ‘well done’ when  Rowan Rumball, a Sports Turf Research Institute Ecologist, visited last September to judge the environmental and ecological improvements at Rothes.

The north-east is proving a hot-bed for progressive golf course management. Of the four nominees in the Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year category three are from this region of Scotland (Rothes, Banchory and Montrose) with a course in East Anglia’s Ipswich making up the quartet. Richard Mullen at Banchory gained a further mention in the Operation Pollinator category.

The 2020 Golf Environment Awards are celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2020, and continue to recognise golf clubs and individuals that strive to undertake environmental best practice. Past finalists’ projects have ranged from simple but effective, to grand scale schemes.

Head of Ecology at STRI, Bob Taylor, said: “I cannot believe it’s twenty five years since we first set up the Golf Environment awards. Moreover, the awards have become the leading accolade for ecological and environmental excellence within the golf industry. Many golf greenkeepers tell me the awards represent something to aspire to, they provide an opportunity to market the good works they do. For me the awards represent a growing community that all come together at the awards celebrations discussing works and passing on ideas. Anyone is welcome to attend the awards, and one thing is certain you will leave inspired by the great work clubs are doing.”

The award to the Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year will be made in Harrogate on 22 January and, no matter the outcome, John is a winner as far as nature is concerned.

Further reading

You can find out about Richard Mullen’s work at Banchory in our earlier blog @ https://scottishpollinators.wordpress.com/2019/09/04/on-course-for-nature/