Harrogate Golf Club publishes ecology report exploring diversity of its golf course

Harrogate Golf Club has published an ecological analysis of its golf course – detailing the woodlands, grassland, flora and fauna, water and wildlife which occupy the course and its surroundings.

The report communicates the importance of effectively managing the landscape in contributing positively to the environment in many ways. It also aims to raise awareness of how green spaces benefits areas such as carbon capture, habitats for wildlife, homes for wide and varied species of flora, and improve spaces for people to enjoy.

Founded in 1892, the parkland course covers a total area of 49.5 hectares (125 acres). Located at the highest point between Harrogate and Knaresborough, it is bounded by the A59, the Leeds to York railway, and farmland.

Sections of the report include:

HGC is home to some wonderful trees, covering approximately 45 acres of the site, including 450-year-old English oaks, mature beech, alder, ash, sycamores, hornbeams, horse chestnut, silver birch, larch, Scots pine and hawthorn.
We have put in place a woodland management plan to ensure the appropriate care is given to the trees that adds a framework skeleton that is integral to the golf course’s design and that play an important part of its past, present and future.
Currently, we have well over 75 bird boxes of all varieties to offer a place to nest for the multitude of species we have on-site.
The introduction of carefully situated log piles, which were leftovers from trees that were cut down as part of the management programme, have given refuge to a wide variety of Invertebrates.
In 2023 – at the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) Turf Management Exhibition (BTME) – HGC was selected to take part in the inaugural Plant a Tree for BTME event. So far, 115 trees have been donated by exhibitors to the annual show and will be planted at HGC later this year with the assistance of two local schools.

Grassland management areas
Nature does not live on tightly mown lawns – it flourishes in the rough.
For over a decade, HGC has been extensively incorporating grassland management areas to parts of the course which are not deemed in play. Properly managed, they not only add aesthetic definition but are a haven for flora and fauna.
Approximately 15% of our 125 acres is managed grassland – offering a diverse habitat that changes from month to month throughout the entire year.

Flora and fauna
HGC is rich and diverse in flora and fauna. The parkland course has many mature native coniferous and deciduous trees lining the fairways. There is also a mature woodland called the Belmont Wood.
We also have a 450-year-old oak tree called the Belmont Oak, named after the area of Harrogate where the course is located. It is quite hollow inside but has been well cared for by tree surgeons and greenkeepers.
Members have provided bird feeders near the Half Way Café, which are topped up by the stewardess. Last year, she reported a family of five thrushes being fed. Robins regularly hop inside the open door of the café. The RSPB Annual Bird Watch was carried out from the Café doorway.
There are lots of well used nest boxes (some made and donated by members) around the course, as well as holes in trees where nesting birds have been spotted. A barn owl was seen early one morning perched on a greenkeepers’ shed, while buzzards and red kites are seen every day. Nuthatches and treecreepers are regularly seen and nest in trees on the course, while goldfinches and goldcrests have been spotted, and chiffchaffs are regularly heard in the spring and early summer.
There is a also rich abundance of wild flowers throughout the year. The drainage ditches are very rich in flora – Prunella, St. John’s Wort, Lady’s Smock, Water Avens, Meadowsweet and Tormentil to name a few.
The drier areas have Devils Bit Scabious in abundance. The are lots of grassy banks where Betony is to be found along with Birds Foot Trefoil, Speedwell, Ox Eye Daisy, Knapweed and Yarrow.
The wooded areas are abundant with Bluebells, Stitchwort and Violets in spring. Bedstraw and Wood Anemone scramble along the boundary fence by the railway line. Agrimony and Greater Willowherb are to be found, there are vast swathes of Cowslips, and a Common Spotted Orchid has been found.
The abundance of flora attracts a great variety of bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.
Roe deer are regularly seen, especially by the greenkeepers early in the morning.
Butterflies are commonly seen fluttering around the extensive flowerbeds in front of the clubhouse and around the putting green. In spring and summer, it is not unusual to see half a dozen different species on the course.
If you look carefully, it is possible to find numerous species of fungi on the trees and dead branches in the woods. The unmown grassy areas conceal others, and they can also be found among the trees lining the fairways. Autumn brings numerous specimens of Fly Agaric.

Water sustainability and wildlife
The landlocked course has no natural stream or river resources. Consequently, there are no large, artificial areas of water.
We are, however, committed to harnessing all possible sources of sustainable water while encouraging as much water-based wildlife as possible.
Our current strategy is to identify sites for small ponds around the course to take best advantage of natural springs and drainage water. The potential of boreholes will also be explored.
Hidden in the central woodland area is a pond created from the excavation of earth to form fairway mounds 10 years ago. This pond is fed by drainage ditches and is favoured by the small herd of roe deer.
Last winter, a new pond was created to take advantage of a natural spring and existing drainage. This pond holds 25,000 litres – a volume which is replenished from the spring in two days. We hope to harness this water supply in the future via a remote reed bed system. To soften and enhance the new pond’s perimeter, members donated a variety of bog and marginal plants, which have taken well. A pair of Mallard quickly took up residence, but no ducklings have been seen yet. Tadpoles are, however, in evidence.
Further possible pond sites have been identified for excavation and evaluation.
Ponds and their plants provide habitat and a food source for a huge variety of water-loving animals, insects and birds. Fish will not be introduced to our ponds, as they would negatively impact the ecology and habitat we are aiming to promote and sustain.

Chemicals and fertilisers
The use of all chemicals and fertilisers is strictly monitored and controlled by experienced, trained greenkeepers who know what environmental damage could occur with irresponsible use.
We have been overseeding our greens with disease-tolerant species to limit the use of fungicides and our ultimate aim is to not spray them at all. Over the years, the use of chemicals in the industry has decreased dramatically as education and knowledge increases.

We cannot ignore how we may reduce our use of fossil fuels. We have completed the installation of a micro generation heat pump to provide heat and hot water in the professional’s shop and swing studio. In the main clubhouse, lighting has been converted to LED light sources. A large number of solar panels have also been installed on the south-facing aspect of the roof.

Our cautious, holistic and responsible approach to greenkeeping is the foundation of making golf courses sustainable for the future. We are only custodians of this land for a short time and we need to leave it better than we found it.
James Hutchinson, membership services manager – sustainability and ecology at BIGGA, says: “Harrogate Golf Club is unquestionably one of the most diverse golf courses in the UK. The flora and fauna are of the highest quality with a good number of veteran trees on-site. One thing many courses are lacking are recycling programmes, but Harrogate’s impressive composting of their green and brown waste is admirable. By returning it back to the golf course as usable material, the team has developed a sustainable project of the highest order”.