Rare Orchids Guarded at U.K. Golf Tournament

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Phil Williams, an English Nature conservation officer, says this and other species, like the clove-scented broomrape (a parasitic plant that taps into the roots of its neighbors) and the bright wave moth, gained a foothold in the U.K. after crossing the English Channel. Typically Mediterranean species, they are at the northern edge of their range.

The club liaises with English Nature, a government agency responsible for wildlife conservation, in safeguarding its natural heritage.

Williams says the "rough" areas of the golf course are not subject to fertilizers, over-watering, and nutrient-enriching grass clippings, which would allow more vigorous plants to dominate. Similarly, grass cutting alongside the fairways is staggered to ensure a constant source of wildflower nectar for butterflies, moths, and other insects.

"Most of the orchids have already flowered but spectators should still enjoy a good splash of color," Williams said. "For instance, the bright yellows of lady's bedstraw and piercing blues of viper's bugloss."

In recognition of Royal St George's unofficial status as one of the country's top nature reserves, English Nature made it a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Lizards and Toads

Many other British courses have become SSSIs in recent years—over 100 of them in England alone. They contain a range of nationally threatened species, including the pasque flower, sand crocus, natterjack toad, sand lizard, and black hairstreak butterfly.

The trend marks a remarkable transformation in the way conservationists see the sport. In the 1980s, during a major golfing boom, clubs were often accused of neglecting wildlife. With a surge in the number of courses and players came an intensive approach to turf management. Over-watered, over-fertilized, and doused in pesticides, they were regarded as a symptom of suburbia's march on the countryside—and its indifference towards the flora and fauna living there.

Since then, many clubs have sought to minimize their ecological impact. Some, like Royal St George's, are even recognized as key custodians of remnant habitat kept safe from bulldozer and plough.

Yet the general public has been slow to acknowledge this turnaround, said Alan Gange, senior lecturer in environmental science at Royal Holloway University of London.

Gange, who has studied people's perception of the amount of wildlife golf supports, said: "Having interviewed around 400 people, the answer we get to the question, "Are golf courses good are bad?," depends entirely on whether they play golf or not. If they play they think they're good, if not they think they're bad.

"The average size of a golf course is 60-odd hectares (about 150 acres), but only around three percent of that area is highly manicured turf—up to 60 percent is natural habitat. This is what most people who don't play golf don't realize."

Gange has compared the diversity of groups of species living on golf courses, including butterflies and bees, with those on surrounding farmland. He said: "Almost without exception we found that courses do enhance biodiversity."

And even those who visit this year's Open may have a role to play. With Royal St George's lizard orchids preparing to shed their seed, spectators could become the catalyst for budding colonies elsewhere.

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