A Wildlife Haven
By past Lady Captain Wendie Smith
The Leicestershire Golf Course is a wonderful haven for wildlife in the middle of a noisy, bustling city
Its boundaries are mainly hawthorn hedges. A hedge is about one hundred years old for every self setting species within a 30 yard stretch. Hedgerows provide both food and shelter for many insects and birds. The ground staff never cut the hedges until the end of July after the birds have finished nesting.
The trees are magnificent. There was a big tree planting programme in 1993/4 when a lot of thought went into the choice of trees. Attention had to be paid to the kind of soil on the course, the shape and eventual size of the tree, would the tree infringe too much on the fairway, the life-span of a particular species and its usefulness to wild life. Another consideration was the impact of many more trees on the course for golfers! The seasonal changes of the trees enhance the visual beauty of the course with subtle variations in colour, scent and shape.
Young trees can be planted as whips, standards or feathered. Whips are often used for plantations, but care was needed as to where they were planted on the course because muntjac deer eat the leading shoots and scrubs would have been the result. Most of the trees used were feathered, that is young trees with branches coming all the way up the trunks. Amongst the 23 different species of trees planted are four species of maple,four of oak and four of rowan. The maples are the most colourful, but one of the favourites must be the rowan trees, because of all the birds attracted to their autumn berries.
An English oak tree is a veritable village, which houses up to 300 species of wildlife with its insects, spiders, beetles, bats and birds. Many small woodland birds, such as bluetits and chaffinches, time their broods to coincide with moth caterpillars hatching on the oaks. Taking only basic ingredients from the ground, an oak tree grows to 100 feet and is 50 years old before it bears acorns. It is 150 years old before it can be used for timber and it can live beyond 800 years.
Sadly there are not many wild flowers such as orchids, which used to grow in the rough at the side of the 5th fairway. Although people don’t like stinging nettles, even though reputedly they cure golfers elbow, there might be more peacock butterflies if there were more nettles in selected places. Large and small white butterflies,meadow browns,orange tips and brimstones are often seen, occasionally there are other species.
Although golfers can find it a trial, the brook is most attractive and the small fish which live in it attract kingfishers, which can be seen as an iridescent flash of blue, flying low, straight and fast along the banks. Herons and ducks also visit and more unusually a swan or an egret.
Some of the wild animals on the course are a green-keeper’s nightmare. However the course does provide a habitat for them so that they will be there for future generations to see. Squirrels bound across the fairways and show off their acrobatic skills in the trees, Foxes raise families,and become almost tame, quite happily strolling very near to golfers. Rabbits are not welcomed by the ground staff.
Muntjac deer,are shy, strange looking creatures, about the size of a large dog. They can run like the wind and live at the side of the 14th fairway. There are also voles,stoats and moles.
Considering the location of The Leicestershire Golf Course, the bird-life is thriving. However, as for obvious reasons wild flowers are kept to a minimum, there is a shortage of seed-eating birds, such as the finch family.
Many birds are resident, but others are migratory. The thrush family does very well, they all love the rowan tree berries. There are blackbirds, small flocks of mistle thrushes, robins and the occasionally a song thrush. The mistle thrushes are song-thrush look-alikes but can be recognised by their white underwings in flight and their harsh churring sound. In winter when it is really cold, large flocks of redwings and fieldfares appear from Scandanavia. A redwing is also a song thrush look-alike but with a yellow eye stripe and red underwings. A fieldfare has a blue-grey back.
In the winter flocks of black headed gulls in winter plumage can be seen on the course.
The summer visitors are mainly common swifts, which scream overhead as they incessantly hunt for insects. They are the gold medallist fliers of the bird world, they even sleep on the wing and very rarely land. They return to the same nesting site,but use no nesting materials,and pair for life,. Swallows, house martins and sandmartins are rarely seen. Swifts have long,curved wings, swallows have long streamers on their tails and house martins and sand martins have visible white rumps.
As a mixed blessing there are most of the crow family, crows, rooks. jackdaws and magpies but very rarely is a jay seen. Rooks do some good because they eat cockchafer beetles and their larvae which do a lot of damage to the leaves and roots of trees,especially oaks.
|Crow - beak all black||Rook - bare white patch behind the beak||Jackdaw - grey head|
A real favourite is the green woodpecker as it flies low across the fairway showing off its yellow rump and red head. One can often be seen foraging for ants near the greens, especially around the eighth and the fourteenth greens,it is a ground feeder. The loud laughing call or yaffle, is often heard before the woodpecker is actually seen. Great spotted woodpeckers also live on the course, they have smart black and white plumage with bright red lower abdomens; the male woodpecker has a red band at the back of its black head whereas the female has only black. The great spotted woodpeckers have a loud explosive twit,twit,twit. The drumming one hears from woodpeckers is territorial.
| Green Woodpecker
|| Great Spotted Woodpecker
There are two resident birds of prey, a kestrel and a sparrowhawk. A pile of pigeon feathers on the course is all that remains of a sparrowhawks dinner. If one is very lucky one might even see a sparrowhawk chasing low and fast after a pigeon. The kestrel is not a hawk but a falcon, it has much narrower swept back wings when in flight. A kestrel is the only British bird which can truly hover, some other birds ‘ride the wind’. One can often be seen either hovering above the fairways on the back nine or resting in a tree,
| Sparrowhawk - A Hawk
|| Kestrel (a much smaller bird) - A Falcon
Hearing bird songs often helps to locate them. One of the loudest and most trilling sounds, comes from the wren, it is so small that its whole body shakes when it sings. Golfers can be recognised from afar by their walk, and likewise many birds are identified by their flight pattern, Woodpeckers for example have a long bounding flight. There are less common birds seen occasionally seen on the course, such as red-poll, nuthatch, and once even an escapee African grey parrot, which was caught and taken to the RSPCA.
BIRDS SEEN ON OR FLYING OVER THE LEICESTERSHIRE GOLF COURSE
African Gray Parrot (escapee) - Blackbird - Blue-Tit - Black-headed Gull - Buzzard - Canada Goose
Chaffinch - Chiffchaff - Crow - Dunnock - Egret - Fieldfare - Goldcrest - Great-Tit - Great Spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker - Herring Gull - Heron - Jackdaw - Kestrel - Kingfisher - Magpie - Mallard Duck -
MistleThrush - Moorhen - Nut-hatch - Parakeet - Pheasant - Redwing - Redpoll - Robin - Rook
Song Thrush - Sparrowhawk - Starling - Swallow - Swan - Swift - Treecreeper (39 in all)
We are so privileged in the middle of our city to have such a wildlife rich environment. No matter what our golf has been like, I am sure we all come in happy that we have experienced a round in a special place. I wish you all 'Good Luck' in capturing those elusive birdies, eagles, and albatrosses.