ATM’s resident environmental expert Kate Torgersen looks at how golf courses can play an important role in protecting and enhancing local bee populations.
This time of year is when we see an increase in bee activity with the warmer weather and flowers in bloom. Here, I'll look at what options can be done to reduce the risk to golfers without calling in the pest controller, how important bees are and the role that Golf Courses can play to help their survival.
In researching this article I was surprised to find very little information available about bees on Australian golf courses. That’s compared to the wealth of literature that can be found on international courses where it almost seems common practice for clubs to have beehives on site.
Type ‘bees on golf courses’ into Google and you will see the results are plentiful, with international courses participating in beekeeping initiatives, managing beehives as part of their regular maintenance and providing out of play and wildflower areas to encourage bee populations. Syngenta has a dedicated initiative called Operation Pollinator which helps restore pollinators in agricultural, golf and other landscapes by creating essential habitats.
By contrast, scroll down through the list of search results and the first mention of bees on Australian golf courses is a forum asking about the ruling if your ball happens to come to rest under a swarm of bees!
Bees are vital to our existence as they help to pollinate most of the crops we eat and many that feed farm livestock. In fact, nearly two-thirds of Australia’s agricultural production benefits from honey bee pollination.
When we think of bees the majority of people instantly think of the European honey bee, but Australia also has over 1,500 species of native bee with a small number of these (approximately 10) stinger-less.
Despite their prevalence, bee populations are always under threat whether it’s through pests and diseases, intensive farming practices or the destruction of their natural habitat. And it’s the latter where golf courses can play a significant role, especially in an urban environment where they are often some of the last remaining open green spaces.
To back up that very point, between 2012 and 2014 the AGCSA, in conjunction with the University of Melbourne, conducted a project which examined the biodiversity benefits of urban golf courses (see the article ‘Green havens’ which appeared in ATM Volume 16.5, Sept-Oct 2016, p6-12).
As part of the study, researchers looked at native bee populations on 13 Melbourne golf courses and compared them to those found in nearby residential and park reserve settings.
Golf courses can play a significant role in protecting and promoting bee populations
Using a combination of sweep nets and coloured pan traps, researchers caught over 1000 individual bees and identified at least 30 different species of native bee. When compared to nearby residential areas and nature reserves, golf courses on average supported a greater number of different bee species.
Furthermore, researchers sampled these ‘nature reserves’ to see if more intact remnant habitats supported a greater number of bee species. Instead, they found that golf courses provided the most important refuge habitat for native bees in the urban landscape. This is probably due to the wide variety of nectar-bearing plants found within golf courses and because of their greater levels of maintenance (e.g. irrigation) which may increase food resource availability.