North Berwick Golf Club

GEO Certified® 07/2016
North Berwick,
Scotland, United Kingdom
Telephone: 01620895040
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Executive summary (English & local language)

North Berwick Golf Club is rightfully regarded as one of Scotland’s premier natural links courses. There are a number of reasons for this; not least being the long history of the course and the excellence of the golf holes, the most memorable having inspired architects from the days of Charles Blair MacDonald, but perhaps foremost is the superbly consistent quality of the natural links turf, which provides outstanding playing conditions throughout the year. This in turn is in part a product of its location on an archetypal links site, immediately adjacent to the Firth of Forth and with a natural dune sand underlying the entire course. These inherent advantages would not be sufficient however, without the highest standards of course management, which have been an essential contributor to developing and maintaining its reputation for excellence over many years. The status of the course is underlined by its regular selection as a Qualifying Course for the Open Championship by the R&A.
The club's Certification Report is comprehensive, providing a consistent level of clear evidence and reasoned justification over all topic areas. Key sustainability achievements identified by the Report and the verification procedure included:
• depth of understanding of the natural conditions which support the quality of the turf playing areas, and the ability to manage these with minimum resource inputs, supported by a consistently high standard of professional advice;
• well-established ecologically sound management practices which recognise the interconnectedness of the golf course habitats and protect the value of the designated nature conservation sites of which it forms part;
• forward-thinking medium to long term plans to address threats to the integrity of the course and habitats;
• very economical use of water for course irrigation;
• low nitrogen and pesticide inputs;
• exceptionally strong relationships with the local community
Several general areas of potential improvement were identified which the club acknowledge as requiring consideration. These include the need for detailed auditing of resource consumption, over-reliance on non-renewable energy sources, exclusive use of potable mains water supply, and use of mains sewers for all waste water discharge.

Nature

The course occupies a relatively narrow strip of fixed dune grassland between the coastline and the edge of the urban area. The Club have a sound understanding of the ecological designations which apply both to part of their leased area, which includes grassland west of the Eil Burn, and to the neighbouring intertidal areas of the Firth of Forth.
The overall standard of stewardship of the landscape and the constituent habitats of the golf course is extremely high, founded on a traditional philosophy of “lean and mean” low input links turf management. This is reinforced by awareness of threats to its equilibrium, which currently include coastal erosion and aggressive colonisation by sea buckthorn scrub, and active steps are being taken to address these based on professional advice.
The wider significance of the site both in terms of its landscape context as part of the East Lothian coastal plain (including its overall “Greenspace” function relative to the urban area), and of the broader ecological role played by all habitats on the course, including those which are undesignated, is covered less comprehensively in the Certification Report and could be more fully documented and highlighted in future.

The club's Certification Report records that no ecological surveys have been undertaken. The Dune Grassland Habitat of the “North Berwick Coast” is briefly outlined in the SSSI Citation. Variegated horsetail Equisetum variegatum is noted as a nationally scarce species. Several plant species are mentioned in the SNH Management Agreement for the “Turf Nursery” area to the east of the 9th fairway, including Equisetum variegatum. The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) website refers to survey data from a number of km. squares in the area which include at least one sample square within the course. This data is available via the NBN website and from the “Plant life of Edinburgh and the Lothians”, published by Edinburgh University Press (2002). Baseline coverage for the entire area of the SSSI may be held by SNH and this should be investigated. East Lothian Council’s Biodiversity Officer may also hold additional records. (Sample correspondence with the Biodiversity Officer was viewed during the site visit but this did not include any survey reports). No other surveys including mammals, birds, or invertebrates were available. No landscape surveys are referred to. No reference is made to SNH Landscape Character descriptions regarding the wider context. The site falls within the Landscape Character Unit “Area 24 North Berwick Plain” (The Lothians Landscape Character Assessment SNH 1998). Coastal Zone Management forms an important element in the overall landscape management strategy for the wider area. This is embodied in the East Lothian Council Shoreline Management Plan 2002, which in turn forms part of the wider framework of the Forth Integrated Management Strategy (Forth Estuary Forum 1999). These documents are referred to and have direct implications for the implementation of proposed projects on coastal defence and sea buckthorn removal (see also further discussion below

The Firth of Forth SSSI, Firth of Forth SPA, and Firth of Forth Ramsar Convention designations cover the intertidal zone for the entire length of course: in addition the SSSI includes all grassland and scrub areas (including playing areas) west of the Eil Burn. The requirements of these are well understood and are explicitly referred to in plans for future projects. Management of the grassland habitat within the SSSI is covered by a detailed Management Agreement with SNH, which will be due for renewal in 2018.

The playing areas of the course support a sward of near exemplary species composition for a links, dominated by fescue and bent, particularly on the greens, with small proportions of dwarf ryegrass on tees, and a more heterogeneous sward including mainly bent and poa on the fairways. The condition of the turf and its management are described in glowing terms in the most recent agronomy report by STRI (2015). Performance criteria measured in this report including firmness, trueness, smoothness and speed showed exceptional consistency from green to green, and the overall presentation of the course is also complimented. The club communicate frequently with the membership and visitors on playing expectations through a range of methods, and it is considered that these are generally met or exceeded. Minor outstanding turf management issues referred to include the aims to further reduce organic matter in the rootzone and increase the fescue percentage through maintaining intensive and regular topdressing and overseeding, mainly to combat the heavy pressure of play, which is currently estimated to be around 55,000 rounds per annum. The out-of-play roughs are also considered to be very appropriately managed: beyond a primary and secondary cut there is no intervention on the native coastal grassland which includes marram and sea lyme, apart from scrub removal.

Key features of the landscape character and ecological context of the site include:
• the close physical proximity to the town of North Berwick and adjoining residential areas;
• the intimate relationship with the coastline and coastal processes along the entire northern boundary; and
• a mosaic of habitats within the boundaries of the course and immediately to the west, including species-rich neutral and wet grassland, pine and sea buckthorn scrub, bare sand, and broad-leaved woodland.
A wide range of appropriate practical activities and projects which address the key issues relating to these aspects are demonstrated, including:
• a strong and coherent policy for public access, which incorporates formal footpaths including the John Muir Way, less formal paths linking the beach with the residential areas to the south, and includes appropriate new signage welcoming other users of the site while at the same time warning of dangers;
• a comprehensive proposed Coastal Management Plan, prepared by STRI in 2015, which seeks to protect the integrity of the main playing features of the course within the framework of the East Lothian Council Shoreline Management Plan;
• formal habitat management plans for the SSSI grassland, and Sea Buckthorn scrub; and
• a wetland habitat creation project constructed in 2011 adjoining the 9th fairway, which has established very successfully to date.

Water

All water consumed at North Berwick Golf Club comes exclusively from the potable mains supply. Groundwater boreholes have been investigated for course irrigation on more than one occasion but have been ruled out as a viable source on grounds both of abstraction quantity and water quality. The irrigation volume reported in 2015 suggests an exceptionally economical level of water consumption relative to some other comparable Scottish links courses. The club's Certification Report acknowledges that the baseline consumption figures for irrigation are compromised by the loss of the irrigation system records prior to 2015, although this will be remedied in future by the recently-installed automatic system. No waste water treatment, grey water recycling or rainwater harvesting are undertaken; this relates primarily to site constraints at and around the clubhouse and car parking area, where space is extremely restricted. No water audits have been undertaken.

Golf Course
• These were verified with reference to the irrigation computer and utility bills. No trend is observable given the loss of records up to 2014
• A fundamental element of the turf management philosophy is the extremely sparing irrigation use – a total annual volume for 2015 of approximately 2.3 million litres for an irrigated area of c.23 hectares represents a small fraction of the average volumes used on several other GEO Certified Scottish links sites. This is likely primarily due to the restriction of fairway irrigation, recorded as “Never” in the club's Certification Report, but described in on-site discussions as “when required only” – dust control being cited as the most common reason, with divot recovery also likely to require some application.
Clubhouse and Maintenance Facility:
• Measures to conserve and minimise water consumption meet the minimum criteria.
• No specific water saving technologies or appliances were demonstrated.
• No water awareness or water-saving signage present.

• Greens irrigation is planned with reference to weather forecasting, with annual checks on soil moisture content carried out by STRI. There is no on-site weather station, and a soil moisture probe is not currently available, although purchase is being considered. The traditional methods based on experience and visual inspection however appear to work very well at present – soil moisture management overall was reported as good in STRI’s 2015 report. The soil moisture content target value of 20% was slightly exceeded in 2015 although it was acknowledged that this was influenced by weather conditions. Use of a wetting agent was also regarded as successful giving efficient and consistent results across the tested greens.
• The Toro irrigation system was installed in 2006, with current industry standard technologies utilised for efficiency of targeting, pressure optimisation, and servicing interval.

Surface Drainage
There are two water outflows from the course. The Eel or Eil Burn originates in the Archerfield Estate and also drains farmland north and east of Dirleton, enters the course to the south of the 7th hole, flowing across the 7th and 12th fairways as an in-play hazard (its location directly in front of the 7th green is strategically significant in the playing character of the hole). The burn outflow at Broad Sands is a highly mobile feature, interacting closely with the beach morphology and sediment supply, frequently changing direction and width. A second unnamed short open section of watercourse crosses the 16th and 3rd fairways, also as an in-play hazard, outflowing to the intertidal zone between Cowton Rocks and Point Garry. A new pond constructed in 2011 is linked to new drains installed under the 9th fairway but has no outlet.

Energy

The energy consumption data supplied meet the minimum GEO requirements. The club relies exclusively on grid electricity and fossil fuel sources. Basic energy saving measures including LED lighting and motion sensor switches are in place in the clubhouse and maintenance facility. No energy audits have been undertaken and no evidence was offered in discussion with the Club Manager that the Sustainability Group has yet considered this issue.

The club's Certification Report indicates stable to slightly reduced consumption levels of grid electric and fossil fuels over the three year period 2013-2015. Sample utility invoices were reviewed to verify the figures reported.

Two hybrid electric vehicles are part of the maintenance fleet. In discussion during the visit, it was learned that a wind turbine had been ruled out on a common sense basis, given the Historic Scotland Conservation Area designation which covers the clubhouse and surrounds, as well as part of the golf course (approximately east of the 12th green/5th fairway). Solar power (PV and/or Thermal) for the clubhouse would likely be similarly constrained. The Maintenance Facility, although also within the Conservation Area boundary, might conceivably be acceptable in planning terms for roof panels given its dense screening by scrub, and it was agreed that this could be considered in future. The new practice centre building is sited outside the Conservation Area but the feasibility of incorporating solar sources for heating and/or power did not appear to have been considered.

Practical actions to reduce consumption are reported in the club's Certification Report and were validated during the visit. Further planned measures were confirmed including imminent work on clubhouse window replacement, and ongoing upgrading of LED lighting.

Supply Chain

The information in the club's Certification Report provides an acceptable overview of the provenance of the club’s suppliers of goods and services. Evidence of numerous examples of local produce, pro-shop merchandise, and turf management supplies was demonstrated during the site visit and documented in the purchasing records. Information on the key waste streams is provided and the waste management operations are legally compliant.

While no explicit ethical and/or environmental purchasing policy was available at the time of the visit, this has since been finalised and is understood to have been incorporated in the club’s overall business plan. The content is concise but includes reference to environmental and sustainability criteria to be considered in all procurement decisions.

Comprehensive supplier records were reviewed demonstrating exact distances from the club. Key staple local food sources highlighted included fresh beef and fish from North Berwick suppliers. Predominantly local tradesmen and contractors are used, and Pro-shop club merchandise features several Scottish suppliers including knitwear and weather-proof gear.

Fertiliser and pesticide application data is recorded in the club's Certification Report and was verified through sample diary entries. The club undoubtedly excels in minimising turf nutrient and pesticide input. Maintenance of the established links sward is straightforward and minimal, with applications to greens currently limited to nitrogen application only. The STRI memorably describe the fertiliser programme as “wonderfully simple” in their 2015 agronomy report. Inputs to all playing areas are predominantly inorganic (ammonium sulphate), in addition in 2015 an organic turf conditioner (Farmura Porthcawl) was successfully introduced for applications to greens. The fertiliser application rates have remained consistent across the three year period reported. Pesticide applications records show a single application per annum for all areas (including semi-roughs), limited to a total of less than 5kg of active ingredient. Other turf products consumed include seed, in very significant quantities as part of the essential overseeding procedure to manage the high playing pressure; 100% fescue species are used at c.400kg / annum. Top-dressing sand is also applied very regularly as advised by STRI, King’s of Ayrshire being the chosen supplier. Divot Mix is obtained from Forth Resource Management a local organics recycling/composting supplier. Bunker Sand is sourced from the beach, but with the express agreement of East Lothian Council and SNH, to an agreed maximum quantity per annum, (currently small, c. 50-60 tons).

Measures to minimise waste and recycle materials are recorded and were observed on site. Grass clippings are composted in a prescribed area within the maintenance compound, or spread in situ when low volumes are produced. The club use East Lothian Council’s Recycling Facility in North Berwick, with club waste separated as required as part of each transfer. Small tee marker type litter bins are provided at every tee, supplemented by larger reconstituted plastic bins with hinged lids at several strategic waiting locations – eg 10th and 14th, tees. Waste types are not separated in bins, having been trialled unsuccessfully and inefficiently in the past. At the clubhouse, the standard East Lothian Council issue bin system is used to separate waste, the bins are collected by the Council from the roadside at Beach Road (to the rear of the Clubhouse building).

Pollution Control

Waste water from the maintenance facility is currently discharged to the sewerage system. Runoff from the course leaves via one of two open water courses which cross the playing areas as noted above (Eil Burn and 3rd/16th water hazard). These are currently protected by 10m wide no-spray zones but otherwise the presence of close-mown turf to the edge of the water demands close attention, given drainage direct to the intertidal part of the SSSI. Introducing a programme of water quality monitoring therefore seems prudent.

No water quality testing is currently carried out. Accordingly there are no inflow or outflow testing locations. The club are receptive to establishing a monitoring programme. It is noted that water in the Eil Burn enters the golf course having flowed through agricultural land.

All Maintenance Facility waste water is discharged to the main sewers. Water from the wash down area drains initially via an oil interceptor. The club are addressing the requirements of the updated Water Framework Directive. Options being considering include a closed loop system and reed bed treatment. The new toilet block/indoor teaching facility at the practice area (due to open summer 2016) has a modern septic tank, with an overflow draining to the Eil Burn, as agreed with SEPA.

Storage, handling and containment measures were inspected and all meet relevant GEO criteria. It is noted that the club’s turf management practices require predominantly relatively small quantities of chemicals, mostly in 2-3 litre bottles. An exception was noted for the organic turf conditioner which is stored in a 1000 litre bulk container. The register of materials was viewed in the course manager’s office.

The club are compliant in terms of storage, handling and disposal procedures. The main machinery and equipment storage shed was observed to be clean and well-organised, with a sealed concrete floor. Integrated mixing bowls were observed on the two sprayers.

A 10m no-spray zone is universally applied to watercourses (including along the coastline to the north) which is predominantly ecological rough. The most vulnerable areas are the margins of the two burns draining to the Firth of Forth SSSI, which are maintained as close-mown turf where they cross fairways. An emergency spillage response plan is not yet in place but is in hand.

Community

The club has a long tradition of extremely close links with the town. The location of the clubhouse right on the edge of the urban area both facilitates and demands good working relationships with the community, which are undoubtedly in place and thriving. The course is owned by the Council, ensuring open public access; this is well handled by the club, balancing safety and playing convenience with a welcoming attitude, and allowing the site to function as a valuable component in the overall greenspace network of North Berwick and East Lothian. The children’s course, established over a century ago, is the focal point of a very strong programme of liaison with schools, and is also a valuable resource to encourage beginners of all ages.

Staff personnel files include all training certificates are retained in Clubhouse by the General Manager, and were viewed during the visit.

The club's Certification Report records the current representation on this group. Although no formal minutes were available, in discussion it was learned that this is more of an ad hoc group, convened as required to discuss project specific issues – eg SSSI Management, and Coastal Protection proposals. There is also a Joint Greens Committee, including representatives of the other course-sharing clubs, ie Tantallon and Bass Rock, (North Berwick Ladies was amalgamated in 2005). This group develops and agrees all course management policies.

The club's Certification Report lists numerous valid examples of cooperation. In discussion a significant number of additional activities and groups were identified. They include a new proposal for a Community Fund, initiated by the club this year, in partnership with North Berwick Community Council, whereby donations of up to £10k per annum to appropriate projects will be considered by the club. The links with the Council’s Coastal Ranger Service and Biodiversity Officer appear to be particularly strong and close, providing additional confidence in the environmental stewardship of the course and its wider role in the landscape and ecology of the area. The schools coaching programme was also further explored, which includes Easter and summer holiday camps, and extends also to a ladies’ beginners programme.

Fundamental to this aspect is Council ownership, with open public access. The club’s General Manager represents the club on the East Lothian Council Access Forum. The John Muir Way is accommodated within and adjoining the course, with frequent signage, at several key points alongside the course and in front of clubhouse. There are additional informal paths across holes 1 and 18, 2 and 17, (and at 3 and 16 alongside wall, facilitated by maintenance road access to south of 16th fairway). New safety signs are to be installed in 2016, incorporating “welcome” messaging. There are no environmental interpretation signs or panels. Cultural and historic features include historic dykes, alongside and within course, most famously at Hole 13, these are maintained and restored where required using appropriate mortar. An octagonal concrete pillbox on the coastline to the north of hole 12, dating from 1919, has recently been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Copies of the staff and members' newletters were viewed. Clubhouse noticeboards appeared up to date and an exhibition detailing the proposals for the Coastal Protection Plan was in place at the time of the visit. Existing signage relating to crossing points for access paths was viewed and the proposals for updated signage were viewed and explained.

The club website currently has no environment page or sub-page. The Club Manager administers Twitter and Facebook pages.

Documentation Reviewed

Conclusion

The Verification process confirms that North Berwick Golf Club satisfies the GEO Certified Evaluation Criteria. The evidence from the club's Certification Report, verified on site, is that good practice in the required areas of sustainability is being applied. It is recommended however that the sustainability audits and policies identified in the Verification Report should be put in place over the re-certification period.

Certification Highlights

• depth of understanding of the natural conditions which support the quality of the turf playing areas, and the ability to manage these with minimum resource inputs, supported by a consistently high standard of professional advice;
• well-established ecologically sound management practices which recognise the interconnectedness of the golf course habitats and protect the value of the designated nature conservation sites of which it forms part;
• forward-thinking medium to long term plans to address threats to the integrity of the course and habitats;
• very economical use of water for course irrigation;
• low nitrogen and pesticide inputs;
• exceptionally strong relationships with the local community