My View

Golf should engage with research

Tony Hanson, environmental consultant, calls on golf to contribute to Citizen Science

By Tony Hanson

27th April 2016
Golf and your community,Working with nature,Planning for climate change
Trees are crucial to the character of many UK golf courses and Citizen Science needs your help to monitor tree diseases spreading across the country.  
During my many visits to golf clubs, providing technical surveys and verification for the Golf Environment Organization, conversations frequently move towards conservation including increasing biodiversity and reducing the close mown land around the golf course.  Frequently, discussions move on to the presence of tree diseases such as Ash die back, Leaf miner in Horse chestnuts and a host of other nasties, such as sudden oak death and oak decline. Many of the golf courses were unaware and had only a slight knowledge of the diseases spreading across the United Kingdom and the potentially devastating affect they may have. 

I contacted Dr David Slawson, at Imperial College London, who is a Director of Open Air Laboratory (OPAL), a Big Lottery funded Citizen Science project, designed to encourage the submission of sightings of a range of diseases and invasive species by members of the public.  Primarily the project is intended to raise awareness amongst the general public of the spread of invasive diseases but crucially it has the potential to provide a volume of data that would be unachievable without the public’s help.

The golf industry is uniquely placed to assist in this study with the ability to provide data from a host of locations from Land’s End to John O’Groats. With potential data provided not only by greenkeepers, but also by members, we can help meet the OPAL remit of achieving public engagement and awareness.

How can we contribute? It is very easy, as long as you have access to a smartphone or the internet.  App's are available from the OPAL website or for both Android and Apple operating sytems and provide information on identification and reporting any sightings you may have. 

Current tree health projects include:

22.9% of Broad leaved UK stock (Data from National Inventory of woodland and trees).  Disease and pest issues include: Oak powdery mildew – first identified in the UK in 1908 was considered a contributory factor in the oak dieback in the 1920s;  Knopper gall – arrived in the UK in the 1950's the wasp galls affect the acorns and prevent germination;  Tortrix roller moth – the is a native species but infested trees can lose all their leaves preventing photosynthesis;  Oak decline – resulting from combinations of pests diseases and other outside agents such as drought.


Oak powdery mildew was considered a contributory factor in the oak dieback in the 1920s.

13.3% of Broad leaved UK stock (Data from National Inventory of woodland and trees).  Disease and pest issues include:  Ash bud moth – a native species that damage the base of the bud and may cause the leaf failure;  Ash key gall – created by a native mite the galls make the ash keys heavier and less able to be distributed by the wind;  Nectria canker – a native fungus that colonises existing wounds and scars potentially causing die back;  Ash decline – caused by a number of factors affecting the roots and causing a gradual decline.

Horse chestnut
No percentage figures published.  Disease and pest issues include:  Horse chestnut leaf blotch – first appearing in Britain in 1935 the cause is a fungus normally appearing in the summer from June; Leaf miner – a micro moth first appearing in the UK in 2002 with tell-tale brown marks caused by the caterpillar feeding inside the leaf; Bleeding canker – caused by a bacterium introduced in the early 2000's and attacks the bark of trees and can be fatal in extreme cases; Horse chestnut scale – First appearing in the 1960's the egg sacks of the insect appear in June with the young emerging and feeding on the leaves.

OPAL is working with the Forestry Commission and has requested help to monitor the spread of six most unwanted pests and diseases, which are:
  • Asian longhorn beetle
  • Citrus longhorn beetle
  • Ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea)
  • Emerald ash borer
  • Oak processionary moth
  • Pine processionary moth
Details and aids to identification are available from the Forestry Commission website at

Beyond monitoring the potential problems faced in the UK, I am pleased to say that Burhill Golf and Leisure has offered to pilot a study at their Ramsdale Park Golf Centre with OPAL scientists based at the University of Nottingham.  Planned activities include completion of one or two OPAL surveys, working with local youth groups to plant a wildflower meadow and running a ‘BioBlitz’ event.  

Wild meadow
Wild meadow growth in areas out of play.
Over the years I have been involved with golf clubs and leisure facilities to assist them in reducing their resource consumption, and ensure legal compliance, through a range of management techniques and technical infrastructure projects.  Recently I have completed a detailed, low cost, golf and leisure industry Environmental Management System (EMS) providing clients with a staged approach that focuses on a environmental legal compliance, waste reduction and resource efficiency as well as providing an online resource library.  
My focus on resource consumption efficiency and compliance saves clients £1000s a year, which is easy to justify.  

Placing a price on the natural environment has always been more problematic.
As part of the discussions with Imperial College London it may be possible for a future project to systematically quantify the value of the golf industry to nature and continue our efforts to change the common perception that golf is bad for the environment.

If you would like to find out more, or you would like to get involved, in the Citizen Science project please let me know.  My email address is 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not, necessarily, those of The R&A.