Fife Golf Trust

GEO Certified® 03/2017
Glenrothes,
Scotland, United Kingdom
Telephone: 07415 414 740
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Executive summary (English & local language)

This initial verification of the Fife Golf Trust (FGT) covers seven discrete sites; five 18-hole and two 9-hole courses, together with seven maintenance facilities, five of which are shared with other Fife Council services. Verification was undertaken over a two day period on 6th and 7th March 2017, consisting of an initial meeting and documentation review at FGT’s offices in Glenrothes, followed by site walkovers of all seven courses. The discussions and walkovers were attended by Paul Murphy (Golf Courses manager FGT) and Johanna Willi (Fife Council Biodiversity Co-ordinator). Carolyn Hedley (Scottish Golf Environment Manager) also attended on 6th March.

The courses are predominantly located in central and southern Fife and cover a range of landscape types; from reclaimed mining sites to mature parkland to coastal links, with resulting widely differing soil conditions. All are notable however in having very intimate links with the communities they serve, and are readily accessible either on foot or by public transport.

Fife Golf Trust is a registered charity which was established on 30 March 2011 to manage and operate Fife Council’s seven directly managed Golf Courses. Management is by a Chief Executive supported by a Board of Directors, which includes specialist golf expertise from other Fife-based organisations the R&A, St Andrews Links Trust, and Elmwood College.

The Trust income consists of charitable funding together with golf course revenue from a combination of season ticket memberships and green fees, and the business plan makes provision for the current small operating surpluses continuing to 2018.

The facilities, although modest in scale and in the availability of management resources, undoubtedly “punch above their weight” in terms not only of playing quality, as evidenced by recent very positive reports from STRI, but also in particular by successfully meeting the Trust’s central vision of affordable golf with a broad appeal. The golf provision is further enhanced by the outstanding contribution which the sites as a whole deliver for community wellbeing; including through multiple shared use with other recreational activities, in overall greenspace provision, and in essential ecosystem services.

Nature

Understanding of the biodiversity and landscape value of the sites is generally at a high level, founded on sound baseline information dating from earlier Environmental Management Plans prepared in conjunction with SGEG between 2005-08, supplemented by more recent surveys and target notes prepared by Fife Council’s Biodiversity Coordinator.

Lochore Golf Course is the only one of the seven sites covered by formal designation, it falls within both the Lochore Meadows Country Park, and the Lomond Hills Regional Park. The relevant administering authority in both cases is Fife Council, through the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust.

The SGEG Environmental Management Plans included a substantive section covering habitat management. These have been brought up to date in the more recent Biodiversity Notes for each site, which set out an excellent framework for the medium-term re-focussed on pragmatic priority actions for the key habitats. The framework was prepared using the Integrated Habitat Network model and is given additional value and coherence by its linkage into the wider Fife Local Biodiversity Action Plan 2013-2018 (LBAP) and the Trusts membership of the Fife Biodiversity Partnership. The LBAP contains a specific action led by the Fife Golf Trust to work towards GEO recognition and continue to enhance habitats. The Certification Report cites a wide-ranging list of external organisations consulted, which if continued should provide very satisfactory and comprehensive advisory support on landscape and ecological issues.

Continual Improvement
Baseline Surveys. While two sites, Auchterderran and Dunnikier, are currently covered by Phase 1 and 2 Habitat Surveys, it was acknowledged during the visit that further Phase 1 and 2 surveys covering the remaining sites would be desirable to establish a more formal comprehensive baseline. Related to this, the evidence currently provided on site-specific species monitoring and recording is comparatively thin, although overall data drawn from the Fife Nature Records Centre is available dating from 2015. This could be improved going forward by developing a structured programme based on the new Habitat Surveys when completed.

Continued Habitat Enhancement. Very significant progress in the enlargement and connectivity of habitats has been achieved by FGT, and the biodiversity actions noted above identify further opportunities. I would very strongly endorse this achievement, but at the same time would also emphasise that within the admittedly very considerable constraints of providing an appropriate level of golfing challenge, and overall resource prioritisation, there are undoubtedly substantial areas, particularly on the more extensive sites, where opportunities still exist to progress further. These include generic and site-specific examples including:

o Ditches. Open ditches are a common and very welcome drainage solution across the FGT sites, and generally also provide a very successful wetland habitat. While the completed work at Dunnikier represents an exemplar project in this regard, perhaps further consideration should be given to potential projects elsewhere. The newly constructed swale at Glenrothes appears to have unexplored potential in this regard.

o Rock Outcrops: the presence of rock outcrops and individual large boulders within the fairway areas at Auchterderran is a maintenance headache. Some of these could be identified as an opportunity - grouped together as larger features and maintained as roughs analogous to traditional treatments at the Braid Hills in Edinburgh, or the modern interpretation at The Castle Course St Andrews. The largest areas could act as “stepping stone” scrub habitats with limited gorse colonisation allowed.

o The woodland management plans including the thinning works already commenced are a very welcome development, and the potential for edge scalloping and increased diversity of species and age structure is recognised. A personal view - I would caution against too strong an emphasis on “planting for colour” where this involves non-native genera and species including Cotoneaster, tending to “suburbanise” the course aesthetic.

On a similar note the trend for increased signage should be resisted wherever possible, especially away from the course entrances, and teeing grounds. It is acknowledged that H&S prerogatives may prevail – but these appear to have been applied inconsistently in the past.

The key observation under this heading is undoubtedly that the turf management practices represent an exemplary balance between the competing criteria of playing quality, environmental conditions, and available resources. With the exception of Kinghorn, the underlying soil substrates are generally of a heavy clay, and previous uses range from nutrient rich former arable land to very alkaline or acidic mining spoil. The recent advisory reports from STRI on the condition of all seven courses are extremely positive. This is epitomised by the comment that “to achieve tournament (ball roll) qualities on municipal courses with limited resources and staffing numbers is a superb achievement”. In addition, in absolute terms the greens at Dunnikier and Kinghorn were selected for particular praise being regarded as “among the best tested” in 2015.
The approach to cultural / integrated pest and turf management is excellent as evidenced on paper within the Certification Report, in the Maintenance Policy, and in the STRI reports. This was validated by observations on the site visit.

The Courses Manager confirmed that overall nutrient consumption rates had fallen significantly during the pre-Certification period although detailed records are no longer available. Nutrient consumption is now extremely low considering that the equivalent of 6 x 18 hole courses are treated. There have been minor increases year on year in total weight of NPK fertiliser applied over the Certification period, although these are not considered significant. Total weight of pesticide application over the Certification period has reduced by approximately 20%, mainly due to reduction in the fungicide proportion. The number of pesticide applications has also reduced slightly from an already very low level, averaging less than once per annum in 2015.

Continual Improvement
As noted above, there may still be room for improvement in the balance between maintained turf and out-of-play areas on certain sites. By contrast – the open links feel at Kinghorn is entirely authentic at present and any further attempts to increase areas of out-of-play rough should be very carefully considered as they may risk compromising this distinctive historic quality.

Water

The predominant source is overwhelmingly from the potable mains supply with the exception of Lochore and Scoonie, which obtain water from an adjoining loch and burn respectively. Consumption records are drawn from overall meter readings at the shared facilities, and therefore represent a significant over-estimate. Meters have now been installed to measure golf course irrigation use exclusively, and figures are anticipated to be available for the recertification period. Notwithstanding this, the average annual consumption is remarkably low, comparing very favourably with other recently certified facilities in the same region. The very small overall irrigated area is likely the most important single factor in this, with watering limited to greens only, plus tees in exceptional conditions

Only four of the seven courses currently have automatic irrigation, the others using a combination of hose fed sprinklers and hand watering. Overall efficiency of irrigation and system components however is good, with savings of around 50% reported in the last year. New irrigation systems are currently planned for Glenrothes and Scoonie within the Business Plan.

Soil moisture meter readings (using POGO digital sensor and app.) and daily weather records contribute to careful planning of the irrigation regime. Overall turf health and soil conditions are monitored with expert advice from STRI.

Continual Improvement
There would appear to be no realistic prospect of replacing mains supply for the five relevant courses in the foreseeable period. Water auditing discussions with RES are ongoing and should include the feasibility of some proportion of grey water recycling for certain uses.

Energy

As a consequence of agreements at the time of establishment of the Trust in 2011, responsibility for utilities budgets was retained by Fife Council. Overall energy policy is accordingly currently not within FGT control. Limited electricity meter readings are available for some maintenance facilities. Fuel consumption for diesel and petrol by maintenance vehicles has remained stable over the certification period. A fleet of 12 electric carts is available for golfers. Limited energy saving measures were observed at shared maintenance facilities, the majority of these buildings are old and in varying states of repair. By contrast, the newly constructed shed at Scoonie, where the specification was under FGT control, includes all modern industry-standard energy efficient measures.

No renewable energy sources are used. Diversification through use of PV/solar panels was investigated for the new shed at Scoonie but was rejected on capital cost grounds, wind turbines were also investigated by RES for multiple sites but were not deemed cost effective on grounds of limited wind resource. There have been no formal energy audits to date but discussions with RES are ongoing to include FGT facilities in future council-wide projects. A Carbon Audit and Carbon Management plan has been undertaken for all Fife Council Services which includes FGT. New bike lockers for golfers have recently been installed at Dora.

Continual Improvement
While direct responsibility for energy policy remains outwith FGT control opportunities will inevitably remain limited. However auditing proposals in association with RES are positive and may bear fruit. In the longer term, a phased programme of upgrading of maintenance sheds to the standard already set at Scoonie would deliver major benefits covering all areas.

Supply Chain

FGT are not currently participants in the overarching Fife Council Procurement Strategy, mainly for pragmatic reasons linked to the smaller financial scale of the contracts let. However the key ethical and environmental principles are followed albeit on an informal basis, with supporting evidence available. The majority of suppliers are locally based within the 10km radius, and local golf course construction contractors Souters have undertaken the most recent drainage and pond creation projects. East of Scotland suppliers were also used for tree planting and wild flower seeding projects.

An overarching Fife Council recycling policy and plan was prepared and delivered by RES which included FGT. There is a public recycling centre at the Cowdenbeath Dora yard, and the aim is to replicate this at other courses.

Continual Improvement
Preparation of a formal yet concise and proportionate FGT procurement policy should be investigated

Pollution Control

Open ditches and small wetland patches are a feature of the FGT sites and evidence of good practice in avoidance of chemical application was readily observed. Frequency of mowing within these areas is still an issue which is worthy of further consideration as has been noted elsewhere in this report.

Good records were available to be viewed on the preparation and timing of fertiliser and chemical applications. Currently only one Greenkeeper is tasked with coordinating chemical applications. Sample records of staff training were observed showing competence in hand-held and tractor-mounted spraying. Machinery washing areas and waste water disposal in maintenance facilities are a slight area of concern overall. This is no doubt predominantly due to the current constraints of shared facilities, since exemplary good practice is evident at the new facility at Scoonie, albeit without treatment/recycling of the waste water. All other wash down areas at least have positive drainage to a gully pot linked to the main sewer with the exception of Kinghorn, which drains to a rough grass out of play area.

Materials storage at most sites is avoided by transporting when required from the central depot at Glenrothes. Where relevant all other facilities have secure storage meeting criteria for hazardous materials.

A proposed new green waste scheme is under consideration with an arms-length Fife Council organisation Resource Efficient Solutions, (RES). Collection of grass clippings on playing areas is limited to greens only, on all other areas they are returned. Long roughs are managed with one cut per year, with arisings currently stored.

Spill kits and accident reporting meets criteria. Sample records were reviewed on site. Compliance with national legislation, also meets criteria.

Continual Improvement
As noted above wash down areas should be addressed if possible. Concrete bunding and/or kerbs should be considered as an interim measure at all sites pending upgrade, aiming for full recycling “waste2water” type systems.

If full upgrade is possible, Suds/filtration schemes for grey water shoudlbe considered. These need not be over-engineered, and can also provide ecosystem services – see St Andrews Eden Course example.

Water quality testing. Historically some chemical testing took place of run-off and leachate from mining waste at Auchterderran. Good opportunities exist to show on-site enhancement of water quality at many sites given the existing open ditches, together with other new wetland projects. Biological monitoring is also proposed. A volunteer with the Biodiversity team commenced a limited programme of sampling in 2017.

Implementation of the Green Waste recycling proposal with RES is strongly recommended. (This should also aim to incorporate replication of the public recycling centre at Cowdenbeath Dora yard.)

Community

Community accessibility and affordability is undoubtedly one of the key strengths of FGT, and is embodied formally within the vision and objectives of the Trust. Affordability is outstanding, with an extremely flexible pricing policy ranging from season tickets allowing unlimited play on all 7 courses, to 9 hole and multiple-round daily tickets for individual courses, all at rates which represent supremely good value in the regional context, given the quality of course presentation. The Business Plan shows a slow but steady growth in total season ticket holders; participation by Juniors and Female golfers is also increasing, and at a proportionately higher rate.

The organisation features a very strong working group including extensive financial, golf, and sustainability expertise in the form of the trustees Board, which meets quarterly with sustainability as a core agenda issue - this has been focussed explicitly on obtaining GEO Certification over the recent period. The courses as a whole embrace the multi-use principle: epitomised perhaps by Lochore which fits seamlessly into its country park context where outdoor education and informal recreation are the central focus, and where the current project for a new joint golf and football pavilion will further enhance this philosophy. The course at Dunniker similarly links closely with its parkland recreational setting, with the network of core paths a key feature.

Landscape renewal of the original brown-field mining land use on courses including Lochore and Dora is an additional strength. Overall the contribution to community wellbeing is exemplary, extending also to general greenspace provision, and including the provision of very substantial essential ecosystem services.

Customised FGT signage is being rolled out across all courses, with an appropriately welcoming feel. This is backed-up by supporting material in the Pro Shops and member clubs’ clubhouses. The FGT website is attractively designed and currently concentrates primarily on pricing and course information issues, although a News Page is also included. Opportunity undoubtedly exists to provide additional sustainability and environmental news – linked also to the existing social media presence, both for FGT and the individual members’ clubs.

Outreach to schools, community groups, and environmental groups is amply demonstrated: stand-out projects have included the Dunnikier Park ponds and wildflower meadows, also closely involving the Fife’s Buzzing group. Employee training and development opportunities are comprehensive and well recorded.

Continual Improvement
Website and Facebook news reporting opportunities could be further enhanced
The FGT team reported that opportunities may be being missed for additional linkages with the Fife Council outdoor access team, due to funding constraints.

Documentation Reviewed

Conclusion

• Basic habitat survey - maps of semi-natural vegetation and habitat types present and adjacent to site
Auchterderran: YES: Phase 1 and 2 Habitat Surveys by Aspen Botanical Advisory Service Summer 2005
Dunnikier: YES: Phase 1 and 2 Habitat Surveys by Aspen Botanical Advisory Service Summer 2005
All other sites: NO: No formal survey available. Fife Council have overall basic coverage on GIS
• Basic biodiversity survey - updated lists of animal and plant species present
YES: All sites were surveyed in 2014 and detailed sites notes and accompanying maps are available. Comprehensive species lists also available from Fife Nature Records Centre (2015)
• Action / management plans for habitat and wildlife conservation projects
YES: Integrated Environmental Management Plans prepared for all sites in conjunction with SGEG 2005-2008
• Basic course policy document / maintenance plan
YES: FGT have an overarching general management/maintenance policy for all playing areas, prepared 2016
• Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy and plan
YES: Inclusive in above
• External reports, assessments or guidance provided by natural / cultural heritage agencies. YES
Auchterderran: SGEG 2004
Dora: SGEG 2006
Dunnikier: SGEG 2004, Buglife 2014, 2016
Glenrothes: SGEG 2005
Kinghorn: SGEG 2007
Lochore: SGEG 2005
Scoonie: SGEG 2006
Additional notes available for all sites prepared by Fife Council Biodiversity Coordinator)
• Environmental impact assessments (for developments or renovations)
N/A
• Groundwater abstraction licence
Lochore Meadows: NO (abstracted from Loch but below threshold volume)
Scoonie YES (abstracted from Scoonie Burn)
All other sites: N/A (potable mains source)
• Waste water discharge agreement
N/A All sites discharge to Mains Sewer
• Water quality analysis results
NO (Visual only)
• Register of accidents / emergency response plan
YES (viewed digitally @ HQ)
• Register of hazardous materials
YES (viewed digitally @ HQ)
• Waste management policy and plan
YES Overarching Fife Council recycling policy and plan prepared and delivered by Resource Efficient Solutions (a Fife Council Company)
• Water, energy or waste audits
Water: NO
Energy: YES (Carbon audit and Carbon Management plan undertaken for all Fife Council Services)
Waste: YES (see above, by RES)
• Internal resource consumption records (i.e. water and energy use, turf applications)
YES (Digital spreadsheet viewed digitally @ HQ)
• Ethical code of purchasing / supplier and contractor preference policies
YES (Fife Council Procurement Strategy 2007-2010, currently under review)
• Other certifications / ecolabels
NO
• Staff training log and continuing professional development
YES (Example checked on site)
• Basic risk assessments and health & safety management
YES (FGT H&S Action Plan 2016)
• Awareness raising materials or sustainability communications to golfers and other stakeholders
YES (eg Member evening presentations, 2 x Fife Buzzing signs @ Dunnikier)
• Sustainability committee meeting minutes
YES (FGT Board Meeting minutes)

Certification Highlights

I, Mike Wood, GEOSA accredited verifier, recommend that Fife Golf Trust be awarded the GEO Certified ecolabel. The key strengths of FGT highlighted by the verification process include:

An exceptional example of a suite of multi-use golf courses

A consistently high standard of playing surfaces, as recognised professionally by STRI, not only in relative terms within the context of existing constraints, but at an absolute level

Outstanding community affordability for golf, and overall accessibility for additional informal recreation activities

Excellent understanding of biodiversity opportunities, and the realisation of these to provide an outstanding contribution to ecosystem services

Frugal and improving resource consumption, providing an excellent fit both with the environmental conditions and the Trust’s golf vision and objectives

Wide community outreach embracing groups from various sectors and delivering successful projects on the ground as well as improved communication links

Strong evidence base – a very comprehensive and detailed OnCourse report, supported by an extensive and wide-ranging set of additional information

Last but not least – a welcoming atmosphere at all courses and from Trust staff generally – a pleasure to work with!