Golf courses have a vital part to play in reversing a decline in many UK wildlife species. We take a look at how golfers can help Give Nature a Home.

Golf courses are not without their critics. They are decried for the natural habitat so often destroyed to build them and the vast amounts of water they require to stay so lush and green. They are condemned for the excessive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers they use. Also for the trend of supplanting natural character with artificial or synthetic landscape features, such as faux rocks, rubber shrubs and plastic turf.

Yet in 2009, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – Europe’s largest wildlife conservation charity – spoke up in support of golf courses and the role they can play in providing sanctuaries for threatened birds and other wildlife. Then, a joint publication produced by the RSPB and golf’s governing body, the R&A Birds and Golf Courses: A Guide to Habitat Management, marked a clear change in attitude by the golfing industry – one that led to a greater number of courses becoming celebrated wildlife havens.
Nurturing Nature ➤

The publication highlighted the many golf courses across the UK where wildlife friendly measures have been a success, and provided guidance for golf clubs keen to do more for birds and other wildlife. At the time, the RSPB’s Nigel Symes, who co-wrote the publication said: “Golf courses may have gained a bad reputation, perhaps not always justified, amongst environmentalists in the past but that is changing. “The truth is that every golf course has potential to be a sanctuary for wildlife, and to provide an important stepping stone for birds and other animals whose habitat is under threat. Whilst researching this report we have come across a lot of inspiring examples of golf clubs which are doing really great things for wildlife.

Today, almost five years on, an ever increasing number of UK golf courses have implemented initiatives to help wildlife, birds and natural habitat. Some have looked at what they can do for skylarks, woodlarks, corn buntings and all kinds of birds by planting native plants like heather and creating reed beds and hay meadows. Others have dramatically reduced their use of harmful chemicals and introduced wildlife gardens meadows to attract pollinating bees, birds and butterflies. Many golf clubs now publicise the wildlife species that can spotted on their fairways, from birds of prey nesting on the signature 13th to grass snakes, herons, hedgehogs and woodpeckers sighted in the rough.

Wildlife is a fundamemtal part of the enjoyment of golf ➤

“Across the UK there is 140,000 hectares of rough and out-of-bounds areas on golf courses which could be managed for wildlife", says RSPB spokesperson Sarah Woods. “This is roughly the same sized area covered by all the RSPB’s UK nature reserves.” “For most golfers part of the enjoyment of a game is fresh air, the sound of wild bird song and the rustles, flutterings and squawks that you hear as you walk around a course early in the morning or late afternoon – it can more than make up for a poor game of golf.”

Of course, these managed green spaces aren’t surrogates for protected land and ecosystems, but they can include suitable habitat for species native to the area. Increasingly gold course designs are leaving established natural features in place as natural hazards and because they are often located on naturally free-draining land, such as sandy heathland or chalk, they are increasingly making the most of this natural asset. In the UK, golf courses are found on coastal plains, wetlands, in woodlands and in valleys and are often the place where migratory birds make their first landfall. Today, many golf courses that look as if they have been designed for nature – because many actually have.

A major RSPB campaign, launched this summer, focused on helping halt the decline in numerous species of garden wildlife following a UK report that revealed around 60 percent of species are now in decline. It is urging all golfers who enjoy playing a round accompanied by the sounds of flapping, fluttering, buzzing and snuffling creatures and birds to “do their bit for nature” – such as encouraging their club to provide a better home for nature. 

What your club can do ➤

Across England, there are more than 100 SSSIs (sites of Special Scientific Interest) found on golf courses, covering more than 6,000 hectares with top-ranking courses such as Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, and Royal St Georges in Kent renowned for its abundant wildlife. To encourage a greater number of wildlife species in out-of-play areas and surrounding woodlands or hedgerows, golf courses are urged to try the following:

  1. Only cutting the grass, hedges and shrubs once a year to allow wild flowers, berries and fruits to flourish and attract butterflies and bees.
  2. Allowing grass to grow and plants like ivy to grow on trees to provide better food, cover and foraging territory for bugs, birds and bats.
  3. Removing non-native shrubs and trees and planting with native species such as hazel and hawthorn to encourage indigenous wildlife to thrive.
  4. Reducing the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used.
  5. Erecting nesting boxes, frog hotels, hedgehog homes and bat boxes.
  6. Encouraging a sense of wildlife stewardship in its golf club members so that habitat and its species are valued.

“For golfers, landing in the rough is a nightmare we’re keen to avoid,” Woods adds: “However, it’s a joy for birds, small mammals, wildflowers and insects, especially butterflies who relish the opportunity to flit amongst the sweet-smelling mosaics of flowers and grasses. I, for one, can’t imagine teeing off without hearing the sounds of nature around me – it’s an intrinsic part of my golfing enjoyment.”

When a birdie really is a birdie ➤

Of course, birdies… eagles… albatrosses… can all be found on the golf course. Here is our A A-Z guide of what can be spotted on the fairways and greens of the UK.

  • barn owls
  • blackbird
  • blackcap
  • blue tit
  • blue tit
  • bull finch
  • buzzard
  • chaffinch
  • chiff chaff
  • coal tit
  • collared dove
  • cormorant
  • cross bill
  • dozens of species of butterflies and hundreds of moth species
  • duck
  • dunnock
  • field fare
  • garden warbler
  • gold finch
  • goldcrest
  • Grasshoppers, beetles and insects
  • great spotted woodpecker
  • green finch
  • grey heron
  • grey wagtail
  • jay
  • kestrel
  • lapwing
  • lark
  • lesser redpoll
  • linnet
  • long-tailed tit
  • mallard
  • mistle thrush
  • moorhen
  • oyster catcher
  • pied wagtail
  • pipit
  • pygmy shrew
  • rabbit
  • red kites
  • redwing
  • reed bunting
  • roe deer
  • sand martin
  • siskin
  • snipe
  • sparrow hawk
  • spotted flycatcher
  • swallow
  • thrush
  • warbler
  • weasel
  • wheatear
  • whimbrel
  • whitethroat
  • wildflowers, including bluebells, snowdrops and several common orchid species
  • willow warbler
  • wren

To find out more about the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign visit: for advice packs, guides and tips on how nature-loving golfers can make a HUGE difference to the plight of many species of UK wildlife.

"Can you name the birdie?" ➤

Can you name the birdie? That's right, take a look at the birdie below. Do you know what it is?

Also, as you know, we are "mobile" friendly. so when you are out on the course and you see some local wildlife, please take a picture on your phone and email it to us here at - together with the RSPB we are mapping all the wonderful wildlife you encounter during your round of golf.

Oh yes, that birdie is a Sparrow Hawk - happy bird watching!