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Conservation Greenkeeping: Giving Nature a Home (Part 1 Jan-June)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


I have been a greenkeeper at John o' Gaunt Golf Club in Bedfordshire for 32 years. I have a strong commitment to wildlife conservation and a belief that all golf courses in the U.K. should have management policies in place that encourage wildlife habitation. Employing modern conservation methods on the huge acreage occupied by U.K. golf clubs could in my opinion make a major contribution in helping reverse the decline of some of the country's most endangered species such as the humble Bumble Bee and the protected Water Vole.

Having 2 18-hole courses to look after at John o' Gaunt provides a challenge on several fronts, both from a golfing point of view and a conservation point of view. Both courses are of a parkland style, 1 with a brook running through it and a more clay based soil and the other is on part of the sandstone ridge and provides a much freer draining soil and is starting to take on a more heathland style with the addition of numerous gorse bushes. There is a definite difference in how the grasses grow and the different wildlife you can see on each.

As a Greenkeeper, I am committed to helping the club provide excellent golf through good management of the playing surfaces and the surrounding habitat. I believe passionately that conservation can provide the best of both worlds - A high standard of golf played in beautiful surroundings. I have come to realise that you do not have to cut all the grass as far as the eye can see, you can even leave some completely uncut. I invite you to join me on a journey through the first 6 months of the year following the work of a Greenkeeper looking after the golf course and discovering the rich diversity of wildlife that is attracted to it and what you can do to help it. (Part 2 July to December will be out later in the year).


January - February


Working outside is great, fresh air and sun but unfortunately whilst you might get fresh air all year round you don't get the sun all the time and during the winter months suddenly it doesn't seem so good. January and February here in the UK are generally colder with rain, sleet, snow and frost so not much grass growing. It may seem like there is nothing to do but from a greenkeeping perspective it can be a very busy time with construction work on the course like the rebuilding of a tee or maybe a path, a new bunker or renovating an old one and it is the perfect time of year for tree work but it is also a valuable time for some serious environmental/conservation work on the course too.

To start with it is crucial to feed the birds over the colder months to help them through this challenging period when less natural food is available. Peanuts, seed and fat balls are all sources of high energy and can easily be purchased from places such as your local garden centre, or various websites such as https://www.birdfood.co.uk/ https://www.vinehousefarm.co.uk/ . You could also put out extras such as apples for some of the thrushes such as Fieldfares and Blackbirds. Bird feeders are a great idea perhaps where members can enjoy them from the comfort of a warm clubhouse whilst enjoying their lunch.

When the weather is extremely wet or there is a covering of snow and you can't get out on the course there is a perfect little job that you can do that will help small birds such as Great Tits and Blue Tits but also larger boxes for Stock Doves, Owls and Kestrels. Nest boxes provide a warm safe place for birds to roost in during the winter months and to nest in during the spring and now is the time to start building some. I use a BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) design for the most of the boxes (https://www.bto.org/how-you-can-help/providing-birds/putting-nest-boxes-birds/make-nest-box) and have built and erected over 100. They are relatively quick and easy to make. You can find other designs of boxes from the RSPB or a variety of on-line sources or you could of course buy ready made bird boxes instead of making them but I find it very therapeutic making them. What started off as a small project way back in 1996 has grown from strength to strength and celebrated 25 years in 2021 and is still going strong. I now make boxes in my spare time at home to sell. I have provided boxes for several other golf clubs, Mount Pleasant Bedfordshire https://www.mountpleasantgolf.co.uk/, Richmond Golf Club in Yorkshire https://www.richmondyorksgolfclub.co.uk/, and Sleaford Golf Club in Lincolnshire https://www.sleafordgolfclub.co.uk/ as well as a local village, various nature reserves in and around Bedfordshire and a local council for their Tree Sparrow Project. I love doing whatever I can to help our wildlife and with all the experience I have gained I am able to give help and advice to other Golf Clubs trying to do their bit for the environment.

Another useful home for wildlife that you can make is a Bat Box, there are several types and they all provide a safe warm place for Bats to rest. I have only made a few so far but intend to make more to help these protected mammals. More information on Bats and Bat Boxes can be obtained from the Bat Conservation Trust https://www.bats.org.uk/ or your local bat group.




When I get a chance during less periods, usually in February, I go out on the course to check the boxes. I usually clean them out but some might just need repairing or even replacing due to Great Spotted Woodpecker or Grey Squirrel Damage, some might just be rotten although this is less common as the boxes usually last several years. It is a good idea to put a metal plate around the entrance hole to help protect from Woodpecker damage but it doesn't stop the Grey Squirrel as they will chew the metal plate. When checking boxes in the winter I have found a resting Hornet, a wasp's nest, a Red Tailed Bumble Bee's nest and even a Woodmouse on several occasions.

Winter might not seem like the time to think about sowing wildflower seed but for one flower it is the perfect time. Yellow Rattle is a parasitic species that will attack the roots of the coarser grasses and weeds slowing their growth down to allow other wildflowers to grow lessening the need for the use of chemicals. Yellow Rattle needs freezing temperatures to germinate. If you already have some prepared areas ready for an early spring sowing then add the Yellow Rattle now. I have done this in several areas and it's been a tremendous success and there is a very noticeable difference with the grass growth in areas that have it and those that do not.


Winter can be an appropriate time to do maintenance on the trees on your golf course. Apart from the ongoing leaf tidying, It is a perfect time to bear in mind the 3 D's: Dead, Diseased and Damaged. Trees that are diseased or dead can be taken down and other trees planted as replacements, or a dead tree could be cut short/made safe and left as a suitable natural home for many small invertebrates and the birds such as Woodpeckers that feed on them, dead or damaged branches can be taken down, partly from a health & safety point of view to prevent them falling on someone and to help keep the tree healthy. Sometimes a thickly wooded area needs to be thinned out to give the healthier bigger trees a better chance of survival. The temptation might be for any wood that you have to pile it up and burn it but that is not very environmentally friendly. The branches you take off or the logs that you chop up can be used to create log piles as habitats for Insects and Small Mammals. To help with that idea you could use wooden pallets that you might have lying around from a delivery to build a tower with, fill the gaps with small logs, branches, pine cones etc. I have also used logs to make a very simple Insect House; all you need to do is take one log and drill lots of different size holes in it then hang it up in or near your wildflower areas and so far all the ones I have made get used. You can of course buy ready made Insect Houses as seen in photos below. Another way of disposing with lots of Brash is to use a chipper, the resulting wood chippings can be used around the clubhouse gardens/course or if you have a lot then maybe local/community based projects such as local gardens or allotments might be able to use them. John o' Gaunt has provided wood chippings to a local community food garden project. https://www.facebook.com/pottonfoodgarden/



Trailcams

If you want to find out what wildlife you have on the course, It is easy to look around during the working week whilst you're out and about on the course but you can't be there all the time. To find out what's about when I'm not, I purchased a trailcam. I now have 3 (different makes) but I would recommend Bushnell which gives fantastic quality video footage. Here are a few links to various websites where you can purchase Bushnell and other makes.



I have tried cameras out in various places on the courses but the favoured spot is under one of the bridges crossing the brook where I have been lucky enough to capture footage of an Otter on numerous occasions. It's a terrific way of finding out what wildlife you have that otherwise you wouldn't necessarily have any idea is there. You might just be in for a big surprise. I have seen Fox, Badger and Deer including a youngster with its mum. It even picks up Bats and Moths on camera. If the course is covered in snow or you have muddy ditches it will be easy to spot footprints so if you're not sure what they are there are some excellent field guides available such as the RSPB Nature Tracker's Handbook or get a trail cam and see exactly what made them.



Otter on cam and Otter footprints in the mud.



Some winters the weather can be extremely wet and this can lead to problems with flooding, issues not just for the greenkeeper to deal with the local wildlife too. If you have a brook/stream or even a pond, with enough rain they can overflow. While the local ducks might love all the extra water it can close the course or at least part of it for several days or even weeks if it is bad enough. When the water does start to recede, it might leave large puddles which would be worth checking for frogspawn around Feb/March before they drain away. (We found some in puddles at John o' Gaunt after some flooding a few years ago). You just need a bucket and gently scoop up the frogspawn to move to a safer place. Worth checking all the flooded/wet areas for any wildlife that might have been caught up in the extreme weather.




The last photo shows a Little Egret enjoying the recent floods.



January is also a valuable time to do some ecology paperwork, collating all your wildlife records from the previous year to send into to the relevant county recorders or to produce a report for the members that can go on the wildlife noticeboard. I have produced lists of all the different wildlife that have been recorded on the courses such as Birds, Mammals, Butterflies and these are available to download from my website under the heading Information.



At the end of January there is a turf management exhibition (BTME) in Harrogate which is primarily aimed at greenkeepers looking to buy new machinery, fertilizers etc and also has a full educational programme on a huge range of subjects for everyone to gain more knowledge within the industry. https://www.btme.org.uk/ It might not seem like a place to go for environmental/ecology information but you would be wrong! There are usually several stands of companies selling wildflower seed, so many different varieties and mixes to help our declining pollinators, it's a wonderful place to get advice about ecology/conservation issues from BIGGA (British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association) https://www.bigga.org.uk/about/green/ecology-bulletin.html and the STRI (Sports Turf Research Institute) https://strigroup.com/expertise-category/environment/ and a great social occasion to meet up with friends and colleagues to discus environmental work.

Running along side BTME are the Golf Environment Awards with a Dinner and an awards ceremony in a local hotel. It is a fantastic awards scheme for greenkeepers and golf courses designed to highlight the amazing environmental work that goes on up and down the country on the UK's golf courses and now includes courses from abroad. I thoroughly recommend entering the competition to help highlight what you and your golf course do for wildlife and the environment. I was a finalist in the Conservation Greenkeeper of the Year category 3 times before finally winning it on my 4th attempt in 2018, John O Gaunt won the Operation Pollinator Award in 2017 and have previously won a Nature Conservation Award and were runners up in Environmental Course of the Year. I am always amazed year after year at all the magnificent work that Individuals and Clubs do for the environment, It is good to see so many clubs getting involved and promoting golf courses in such a positive way.


March - April


The worst of the winter weather should be over by now with fewer severe frosts and generally a bit warmer although there could still be a lot of rain with 'April Showers'. Greenkeepers can get out on the course and actually cut some grass as everywhere starts to green up a bit as we head out of Winter and into Spring. |From an ecological point of view early March would be good time to look at preparing some wildflower areas. An area could be chosen that is out of play where golfer's don't really go (unless they are having a bad day, it could be on the edge of the course near a hedgerow or behind a green.

First you need to mark out the area, it doesn't have to be any particular size or shape, that will depend on your circumstances. One area I chose was on the edge of the course bordering a member's garden and behind a green. The area was rough grass and overgrown with Staghorn, some dead wood and nettles, the dead wood was cleared and the area scraped clear with a small digger leaving mostly bare soil. I personally prefer not to use chemicals but on reflection on this occasion, it might have been better to spray the area with a total weed killer to help eliminate the weeds that were there to help prevent them coming back. It is definitely something to consider if the area you have selected is infested with lots of weeds and coarser thicker grasses you do not want, this option would give the wildflower seed the best chance. You could use a rotovator or maybe a spiker such as the Toro Pro Core to help break up the surface, once raked and ready for seeding I would suggest sowing the wild flower seed In early April when the ground is warmer and the risk of frost is minimal. (a 2nd application of weedkiller might be needed if the weeds are already starting to grow back). Depending on the seed mix used you could expect the first flowers by the end of June.

Another area that I helped prepare was behind a green, It was just long rough grass that had already been cut down with an Amazone Groundkeeper https://amazone.co.uk/en-gb/products-digital-solutions/municipal-technology/groundcare-equipment-pasture-management/mowers-collectors/groundkeeper-mounted-mower-101216) , a turf cutter was used to help strip the turf then a Toro Pro Core https://www.toro.com/en/golf/aerators with solid tines 3-4 times over to break up the surface then raked level to create a seed bed. On this occasion we did mix in leaf mulch to help kick start the seed at the beginning but in future I would not do this again as this method could bring in unwanted weeds in the area. You can get members involved in the wildflower areas by asking them to donate seeds or plants, maybe sponsoring a whole section.



As the weather starts to warm up, greenkeepers will be out and about the golf course cutting and preparing the course for the season ahead but if you keep your eyes peeled whilst you are on your travels you should start to see the first signs of spring arriving.


The first Butterflies should start appearing on warm sunny days. Keep a look out for the following early spring species:

  • The unmistakable bright yellow colour of the Brimstone. Foodplant: Alder & Purging Buckthorn.

  • The Orange Tip (Males have the orange Tip to the wings, the females do not) Foodplant: Garlic Mustard

  • The Holly Blue. Foodplant: Holly, Ivy, Dogwood & Gorse

  • Speckled Wood, it is the only butterfly in britain to have cream spots on a dark brown background, The adults feed on aphid honeydew on the leaves of trees and often on Blackberries later in the summer

  • Adult Commas (ragged edges to orange & black wings) emerging from hibernation fly in late March and April, sometimes earlier if the weather is warm enough. Foodplants: Nettle, Hop, Elms, Currants and Gooseberry.

  • Adult Peacocks (blue & yellow eye spots on dark red wings) emerge from hibernation in March.

So many colourful Butterflies to look for and its not even summer yet!


Brimstone, Orange Tip (courtesy of Chris Walpole), Comma, Speckled Wood and Peacock


Butterflies are a good indication that warmer weather is on the way and winter is just a distant memory but they are not the only sign of warmer temperatures. Our first summer migrant birds will start returning during March and April.


One of the first is the Chiffchaff (although some do overwinter) which has a very distinctive call that sounds just like its name. It is a leaf warbler that breeds in open woodlands all over Northern Europe, a small bird about the size of a Blue Tit, dull olive green colour with off white underparts, dark legs and a fine bill. Look for it in trees near water when it first arrives where it will be looking for Insects.



Another very similar species is the Willow Warbler, found in similar habitat of open woodland but particularly where there is a lot of Birch, Alder and Willow and more ground cover such as Bramble or Blackthorn for nesting in. It is slightly bigger than the Chiffchaff, a pale green/brown colour with a white/yellow breast and a yellow line over the eye and usually paler legs. Its song is a beautiful repetitive descending whistle


The Blackcap is another common visiting Warbler about the size of a Sparrow, the female has a chestnut brown cap and the male has a 'black' cap. its song is a musical warble sometimes sounding a bit scratchy. Like the Chiffchaff some Blackcaps do overwinter in the UK.




Probably one of our most familiar summer birds is the Cuckoo, returning to the UK in April. Most people have probably heard one but less people have actually seen one. It is of similar size to a Green Woodpecker, greyish in colour with a slender body and long tail, sometimes mistaken for a falcon when in flight. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) now run a Cuckoo tracking project to discover what our breeding UK population get up to, where they go and track them when they return. Check out this website for more information. https://www.bto.org/cuckoos


These are just a few birds to look out for but there are many more that arrive early in March and April such as Barn Swallow (dark blue colour with a red throat and forked tail), House Martin (glossy blue/black with a white rump), Sand Martin (light brown colour with a white rump), Whitethroat (male has a grey head, brown back and buff coloured underparts. If you have the right habitat, such as a links or heathland course you might get a Wheatear (blue/grey back with mainly white underparts but with orange on breast and shows a familiar white rump when flying).

Wheatear & Whitethroat


If you have woodland on your course then 1 bird you might have is the Tawny Owl. It has one of the most familiar sounds in the british countryside too-wit too-woo, this is not one bird but is actually the sound of a male and female calling to each other. Usually heard in early spring and again from August onwards after the adults have finished moulting. If you suspect you have Tawnies nesting in a box then you can seek advice from the RSPB or the BTO who will be able to advise you further. If you are going to check a suspected Tawny nest please be very careful. Tawnies can be very aggressive when protecting eggs or young and it is advisable to wear protection such as a face shield to protect your eyes. also when checking a suspected Tawny Nest, always take someone with you who can keep eyes peeled for the adult. On one occasion when I went to check a Tawny box, I got a few steps up the ladder when the adult appeared at the entrance hole, she did not look very happy, the kind of look telling me to 'go away', I turned and retreated to a safe place. This time the adult did not come out and I was able to safely retrieve the ladder after 5 mins.


Communication


Something I have found very useful in my conservation work is the importance of communication, particularly with other golf clubs/greenkeepers, swapping thoughts and ideas. There are several ways of doing this: Social Media plays an important part of everyday life in the 21st century and is an important tool in the conservation greenkeeper's arsenal. Facebook has numerous different groups to help with identification of wildlife and to get general advice and chat to like minded people. A good group to join is Nature on Course (https://www.facebook.com/groups/825785570823833) with people posting photos of ecology/conservation projects and wildlife from their course. Twitter, Instagram and now Tik Tok are also good ways of messaging people sharing photos and videos. Probably the best way to talk to people is face to face, now might be a good time before it gets too busy on the course to visit other golf clubs and have a look around and see what other greenkeepers are doing to help wildlife and the habitat that they have on their course. I have done this several times and found it a very rewarding experience knowing I am not the only one doing good work for wildlife.


A good way to communicate the conservation message to the members is to organize a members evening, talk to them about the wildlife on the course and what is being done to help it, show them photos and videos if you have them. A great way of doing this is by using microsoft's Powerpoint to put together a presentation that you can show on a big screen or you could organize for local or national experts to come in to do a talk. I have organized several on a broad range of topics such as Owls and the RSPB's Hope Farm https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/farming/hope-farm/ All this can be done at any time of year but Jan - April seems like a good time before the clubhouse gets too busy with other functions. You could contact your local Wildlife Trust or local wildlife groups for help in finding people that could do a talk or just hop to google or use social media to ask for recommendations. Another great way to communicate to the members is by writing a regular article in the club newsletter informing the members what wildlife has been seen recently and any other conservation/ecology activities, this gets good feedback from members and is worthwhile doing to highlight how good your course is as a home for wildlife. I have also tried to spread the conservation message about golf courses to a wider audience talking at various industry seminars, local wildlife groups and even the annual conference of the Badger Trust.



Photo is of the crowd at the talk by Dominic Dyer who at the time was CEO of The Badger Trust but now he is currently policy advisor and wildlife advocate for the Born Free Foundation and a Board Member of Wildlife and Countryside Link. https://www.wcl.org.uk/


Golf courses around the UK are not just a load of grass but have a huge array of habitats and are often home to some rare species. John o' Gaunt is no exception. With a brook running through the old course, It has been home to the rare and endangered Water Vole.

The Water Vole is a protected species that has declined dramatically over the last 30 years by as much as 90%, this is due in part to loss of habitat but mainly due to the spread of the American MInk which decided it rather liked the taste of it! If you have never seen one before, people sometimes confuse it with a rat (ratty in Wind in the Willows was a Water Vole). It has chestnut-brown fur, rounded nose, small rounded ears that do not protrude from the fur and a furry tail. It is protected in the UK under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and classified as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. If you have a water feature on your course like a stream/brook or a lake and you think you might have Water Vole, now would be a good time to get in touch with your local Wildlife Trust to conduct a survey before all the banks start growing and the vegetation makes it difficult to spot holes and other signs. If Water Vole are present then you will have to manage the banks in a way that will protect the Vole's habitat. Destroying a Water Vole's habitat could result in a rather hefty fine.


In 2015 we had a survey done and the section of the brook that runs through the course was said to be the best place in Bedfordshire to see them. We wanted to keep Ratty so i got in touch with an ecologist friend of mine who was able to supply the club with a Mink raft. The raft is a floating platform consisting of a base made of a sandwich of plywood and expanded polystyrene (approx 1.15m x 0/6m x 0.26m) with a long wooden tunnel screwed to the top. A rectangular hole is cut into the base under the tunnel into which is sunk a plastic tub containing absorbent foam covered with clay. the foam is in contact with the water and helps to keep the clay moist. The clay pad records footprints of animals passing through the tunnel. It has secure points to attach a mooring rope to hold it in position.


Unfortunately, in January 2017 I found Mink footprints in the clay, I contacted my ecologist friend (or you could contact your local wildlife trust) to get hold of a Mink Trap which was baited by Mink pheromones. The trap went in the tunnel on the raft and was checked on a regular basis, nothing was caught. In April 2017 we had another survey done for Water Vole. Absolutely nothing was found, no feeding signs, no droppings, no footprints and most importantly NO WATER VOLES! It would appear that the visiting Mink had wiped out our entire population. I am hopeful they will come back but it could take a while. If you would like more information on the Water Vole or indeed the North American Mink please get in touch with your local Wildlife Trust.


W.V Update: There have been a few sightings in 2020 and 2021 but only brief sightings, no evidence of breeding yet.


Photo below shows Mink Footprints in the clay followed by a video of a Mink:



May-June


By now the season is in full swing for greenkeepers and grass is growing everywhere, the mowers are out in force and the greenstaff are busy doing their job which doesn't on the face of it leave much time for conservation work but you would be surprised exactly what you can do if your are prepared to put in the extra time. At this time of year most of my time during working hours is spent working on the course (other's might disagree) so a lot of my conservation/ecology work is done in my own time but you can still keep a look out during the day for things you might see or hear.


It is late spring and many more birds have arrived at our shores from Africa and many of these could turn up on your golf course. A fairly plain bird is the Garden Warbler arriving from mid April, it is often difficult to see spending a lot of its time under the cover of trees and bushes. Its song is often confused with the Blackcap. If you have 5 mins spare, try to see it so you can distinguish the difference between the two. Try this link to see the comparisons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBEfujzRrh8


Early May is a good time to see Swifts flying overhead, a common summer visitor to the UK, it spends most of its time flying and will even sleep on the wing. It is quite easy to identify, a bit bigger than a Swallow, brown with a short forked tail. We regular have Swifts flying over the courses so I took some advice from Dick NeweI at https://actionforswifts.blogspot.com/ and made & installed some Swift boxes at John o' Gaunt situated around the clubhouse and have added small speakers and an amplifier to play back the sounds of Swifts to encourage them in to nest. They have not been used by Swifts yet but I am hopeful that they will one day soon.


If you have areas of water with reeds there are 2 Warblers that you should be looking out for: The Sedge Warbler is quite a small warbler, just a bit bigger than a Blue Tit with a distinctive creamy stripe above its eye, brown with blackish streaks above and creamy below with a noisy song, The Reed Warbler is of similar size but a light brown colour and unstreaked, the song is similar but is a bit more melodic but these 2 birds are not always seen near water. On one occasion in early June whilst brushing greens I heard a familiar sound coming from the hedgerow on the edge of the course by the road, I went over to investigate and to my astonishment I was watching a Reed Warbler. Just goes to prove anything could turn up at any time. Check this link for more info and how to Identify these birds: https://www.bto.org/develop-your-skills/bird-identification/videos/reed-warbler-sedge-warbler

One of the best way of introducing members to the delight of bird song is by organizing a Dawn Chorus walk. (early May is best), maybe a weekend or bank holiday. As its name suggests it will be a very early start, usually meeting before it gets light around 4/4.30 but being a greenkeeper we should be used to early starts. Once you get going, if the conditions are right you will soon be immersed in plenty of bird song, familiar birds like Robin & Blackbird but any of the warblers or even cuckoo and who knows? you might find something totally unexpected. The world would not be the same without bird song around us. I have only organized a few but they have all been well attended, the members even turning up when it was raining. You could always contact your local Wildlife Trust or RSPB group for people who might be able to help.


It's not just a good time for birds though, with the weather warming up, now would be a good time to look for start looking for moths. Most come out at night and one of the best ways of to see them is by setting up a moth light trap (although some do fly in the day as well). It is a fantastic hobby and one that I enjoy immensely , simply because you really don't know what your going to see. There are various websites where you can get more information on moth traps and where to purchase one or you could make your own:


Also books to help with ID


You could also try contacting your local moth group to get some help and advice too:


Maybe attend a moth trapping evening at a local nature reserve. The mothing started at John o' Gaunt when I was able to borrow a trap from a friend to use at the club. It was a robinson style trap, a round metal tub (newer ones are plastic) with a plastic collar and a mercury vapour bulb sitting in a holder to attract the moths. There are empty egg cartons in the trap where the moths like to settle. This trap plugs directly into a mains supply in one our buildings but if you do not have access to a mains supply easily then you could use a 12v car battery with inverter or use a generator. MV bulbs usually give the best results as they are so bright but actinic type bulbs (not as bright) are a pretty good replacement. It takes time but once you start doing it regularly you soon get to recognize species a bit easier, it's just remembering the latin names! I thoroughly recommend getting started with moth trapping but be warned it is highly addictive, I now have 6 traps!, a generator and a Battery & Inverter set-up.

Starting with my fav, the pinky coloured Elephant Hawk Moth, Lime Hawk Moth, Privet Hawk Moth, Scarlet Tiger, Poplar Hawk and Eyed Hawk.


May is not just a busy time for greenkeepers, It's a hugely busy time for breeding birds and normally mid May onwards is the time to start checking your bird boxes, particularly those of Blue & Great Tits to see how many chicks they have. I am now a qualified bird ringer with a restricted C permit allowing me to check the boxes and ring the chicks on my own. In 2017 the birds started nesting early and I had 2 broods of chicks ready to ring on the 9th May so sometimes checking them early is a good idea. When I start checking the boxes It's usually done in my own time after work and at weekends. There are over 100 boxes to check and it can take 2-3 weeks to get round them all, particularly if you get rain interruptions.



This type of box is used by Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits depending on the size of the entrance hole














This type of box is used by a number of different species: Stock Dove, Grey Squirrel, Jackdaw & Tawny Owl











https://www.bto.org/how-you-can-help/providing-birds/putting-nest-boxes-birds

Blue Tits, Great Tits, Jackdaw and Stock Doves


It feels such a privilege to be able to handle such delicate creatures. To find out more about the bird ringing scheme and find your local ringing group contact the British Trust for Ornithology: Please note, you have to be trained and licensed to be able to handle and ring the birds.


There are 2 more birds that use boxes at John o' Gaunt, the Kestrel & my favourite bird the Barn Owl. If you suspect you have Barn Owl nesting you cannot check the box unless you have a specific licence as it is a schedule one protected species. I have been lucky enough under supervision from a qualified/licensed ringer to be able to handle and ring Barn Owl chicks, they are amazing birds. I can check the Kestrel box but I have to ring the chicks under supervision.

During June on a nice warm day, if you are lucky you might just catch a glimpse of a Hobby as it flies past chasing after Dragonflies or other Insects. A Hobby is a small falcon about the size of a Kestrel, has a dark hood and a white cheek patch and red feathering on the legs a bit like a pair of trousers. They are in fact a summer visitor and the only falcon in Britain to spend its winter south of the sahara, also it will go after Swallows & House Martins and is the only bird capable of catching Swift on the wing. The Hobby is not a bird I see often on the golf course but when I do there is always a big smile on my face.

If you have water features then keep an eye out on warm sunny days in early May and you may see the first Dragonflies on the wing. Usually the first I see is the Large Red Damselfly followed shortly after by one of my favourites the Banded Demoiselle, the male is a gorgeous metallic blue colour with dark blue patches on the wings. The brook is full of them later in the summer.

As we get into June there are many more Dragon & Damselflies about, Azure, Common Blue and Blue Tailed Damselflies, Emperor Dragonfly and Four Spotted Chaser. I have recorded 18 species of Dragon/Damselflies at John o' Gaunt. They are fantastic delicate creatures and a good sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Azure Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, 4 Spotted Chaser and a Male Emperor

A female Emperor laying eggs


During May & June many more butterflies will be around and delighting us with their colour and variety. Keep a look out for, Large and Small White, Small Copper (only butterfly in UK with coppery/orange wings), Common Blue (bright blue upper side with a distinctive white fringe), Red Admiral (scarlet red bands and white blotches), and possibly a Green Veined White (prefers damper habitats such as woodland rides and edges of ditches). I have noticed that on several occasions on a warm sunny day, Small Whites coming to ground in a bunker (often in large numbers) or on a tee after the irrigation has been on trying to get what moisture they can.


Small Copper, Green-Veined White and a group of Small Whites


Finally we are at the end of this first instalment of my conservation greenkeeping story. I wanted to share with people the sort of work you could do as a conservation greenkeeper around your normal duties and highlight some of the amazing wildlife to be found. With all the knowledge and expertise I have gained over the years I hope I can inspire a whole new range of people, I hope you have enjoyed reading it.


The End of Part One!




























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