The R&A - Working for Golf

Golf meeting the biodiversity challenge

How the game contributes to conserving and enhancing nature.

There is real concern about loss of biodiversity around the world and much work has started to counter the problem.

The Convention on Biological Diversity, signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. It was conceived as a practical tool for translating the principles of the United Nations’ Agenda 21 into reality and it recognises that biological diversity is about more than plants, animals and micro-organisms and their ecosystems – it is about people and our need for food security, medicines, fresh air and water, shelter, and a clean and healthy environment in which to live.

The United Nations has designated 2011-2020 as the decade in which they will halt biodiversity loss and to that end it has cited it as one of its Sustainable Development Goals, which became operational as of 1 January, 2016. 

In 2011, the EU adopted an ambitious strategy setting out six targets and 20 actions to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020.  The EU Biodiversity Strategy aims to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU and help stop global biodiversity loss.  It reflects the commitments taken by the EU in 2010, within the international Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Scottish Government has also been active in this area by introducing its own ‘2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity - A Strategy for the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in Scotland’.  The 2020 Challenge responds to the new international targets.  Scottish Natural Heritage, a public body funded by the Scottish Government to care for the country’s wildlife, habitats, geology and landscapes, has set out ‘Six Big Steps for Nature’ as part of a Route Map to meet the 2020 Challenge.  The Six Steps are:

1. Ecosystem restoration

2. Investment in natural capital

3. Quality greenspace for health and educational benefits

4. Conserving wildlife in Scotland

5. Sustainable management of land and freshwater

6. Sustainable management of marine and coastal ecosystems.

Many other countries are formulating similar strategies but what can golf contribute to this global concern?

Ecosystem restoration

New golf developments can incorporate all of the Six Steps into their plans and actively work towards increasing habitat, connecting existing habitat and creating new habitat while at the same time repairing damage caused by past neglect and loss through other land uses.  Existing facilities can implement positive management to out-of-play areas to enhance their contribution to the wider ecosystem.
Investment in natural capital

Natural capital is, in essence, the economics of nature and is a growing area of interest for environmentalists and economists.  It is the financial value we can derive from natural systems; which includes many of the products we use on a day-to-day basis, the jobs supported by our exploitation of natural systems and the value we place on ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and flood defences.  Golf’s enhancement of the natural landscape, its habitats and wildlife, and its role in climate impact mitigation, are investments in natural capital.  Individual golf properties may not feel they can contribute much, but, as a collective, the game of golf can.  A mechanism to calculate golf’s natural capital – on a facility, local area, regional, national and international basis – would be extremely useful.

Quality greenspace for health and educational benefits

Golf offers this in abundance, being responsible for a significant area of greenspace. Some facilities are able to offer other forms of exercise as well as golf.  The vast range of skills required to manage the golf business and golf courses provides immense potential for education provision beyond that given to golf’s employees.

Conserving wildlife in Scotland (or anywhere in the world)

Well-designed and well-managed golf courses can conserve wildlife.  Golf courses can increase the amount of wildlife compared to previous land uses.  Some of our rarest creatures already find a safe haven on golf courses.

Sustainable management of land and freshwater

Provided that the course is designed to fit the landscape, rather than being imposed on it, golf can provide long-term continuity in terms of land management.  Well-managed courses should make a positive contribution to nature and be non-polluting. This process should include prevention of soil erosion through the provision of a permanent grass cover and appropriate management of out-of-play areas. Provision should also be made to protect freshwater bodies. 
Sustainable management of marine and coastal ecosystems

Our links courses can be the last stronghold of delicate dune systems, protecting the coastal strip from urbanisation.

Golf is part of the world community!

Golf needs to be aware of global, regional and local issues and demonstrate how it can be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.  The biodiversity challenge is a great opportunity for golf to show how it can protect nature, conserve landscape and support wildlife.  The OnCourse® platform provides a mechanism by which individual golf facilities can record and publicise their contribution to biodiversity, and many other sustainability issues.  The sport needs mass input of this sort of information if we are to engage its detractors with confidence.