Birds and golf courses

    Is the booming golf sport ecologically compatible? The Swiss Ornithological Institute was wondering and examined several golf courses.

    Aims

    Promoters of golf often point out that golf courses are valuable areas for plants and animals. However, evidence for this assertion has hardly ever been provided. This project thus aims at answering the following questions:

    a) In what kind of landscape is it ecologically justified building golf courses? Where would damages to nature be irresponsibly high?
    b) How do breeding bird populations react to the construction of golf courses?
    c) Is it possible that a golf course, apart from its function as playing ground, can serve as habitat for plant and animal species with specific requirements?
    d) Can conservation aims be achieved on golf courses that are, from the perspective of nature conservation, optimally constructed and managed?

    Approach

    Numerous ecologically valuable habitats have been created during the construction of the golf course "Holzhäusern" (canton Zug), which was realized in a previously intensively managed agricultural area. One year after completion of the golf course, we assessed the number and location of breeding bird territories as well as the diversity of reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, carabid beetles, locusts and dragonflies. Breeding birds and selected landscape elements were additionally recorded on control plots in the intensively managed agricultural area. Based on these censuses, 34 conservation aims were established for the golf course. From 2001-2003, we checked whether these aims had been achieved. In addition, breeding bird censuses on other golf courses and a comprehensive literature review were conducted.

    Significance

    Beyond dispute, golf is one of the sports with the largest land consumption per athlete. Since 1990, more golf courses have been established in Switzerland than in all previous times combined. Based on a literature review and own breeding bird censuses on three golf courses, our project gives the first overview on the state of knowledge in terms of birds on golf courses. Few published studies from Central Europe are available on the topic. Overall, detailed lists of breeding birds are available from only 13 golf courses. Moreover, in only five cases are comparisons with the situations in the wider landscape and before construction of the golf course, respectively, possible. Studies on the population ecology of species on golf courses are so far completely lacking.

    Results

    Comparative data from Europe on the occurrence of breeding birds and other taxa on golf courses and their neighbourhood are extremely rare. Nevertheless, from a nature conservation point of view golf courses located in near-natural areas appear to be problematic. Even in intensively managed agricultural areas, a golf course needs lots of ecological compensation areas to provide habitat for a diverse community of plant and animal species. However, golf courses located in intensively managed agricultural areas and consisting to at least one third of ecological compensation areas can be attractive habitats for birds.

    Of the 34 conservation aims on the golf course "Holzhäusern", 14 have been reached or even surpassed, while 8 were closely and 12 more or less clearly missed until 2003. On average, 71.5% of the conservation aims were achieved. Numbers of species and individuals, and thus diversity, showed positive trends in taxa associated with water and woody vegetation (dragonflies, amphibians, water birds and birds breeding in hedges).

    The Swiss Ornithological Institute has compiled a position paper (in German) with respect to planning and maintenance of golf courses.

    Project management

    Roman Graf, Simon Birrer

    Partners

    Migros Genossenschafts-Bund
    Klubschule Migros Luzern
    Golfplatz Holzhäusern
    Carabus Naturschutzbüro Luzern
    Heinz Bolzern, Büro für Naturschutzökologie, Luzern

    Publications

    Graf, R., H. Bolzern & T. Röösli (2004):
    Können auf Golfplätzen Naturschutzziele erreicht werden?