11 Oct 2023
Restoring nature and enriching landscapes
Recognising that Earth is an integrated living system and that human health and happiness depend on the ecosystem services of biodiversity, actors across business, finance, government, and civil society are taking concerted action not only to protect, but radically restore the natural world.
In December 2022, the goal of reversing biodiversity loss by 2030 was codified in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, marking the beginning of a concerted transition to a global community rich in the wonder, magnificence, and diversity of life.
The concept is crossing over into policy and practice. In the UK, for instance, developers, land managers, and local planning authorities are soon going to have to demonstrate biodiversity net gain from developments.
This ever-evolving sustainability landscape is creating exciting opportunities for businesses, industries and land-stewards - like golf.
Better with Nature
The fun and features of golf can drive a nature-positive world in a multitude of ways – particularly because the game depends on, and can be improved through, the restoration and further integration of biodiversity into the golfing experience.
The intrinsic relationship between golf and nature is unique amongst sport, with landscapes and ecosystems comprising an essential part of the joy of playing. For centuries, golfers have enjoyed hitting shots around living landscapes with biodiverse areas – a leading example of how human well-being coincides with the health of the natural world.
Grasses like bents and fescues provide the electric feeling of a crisply struck iron. Wooded and wildflower areas provide a stunning backdrop and the strategic interest of hitting a low stinger or high fade. Ponds and streams add tension and the overwhelming relief of making the carry. In fact, according to world-renowned golf course architects like Alistair Mackenzie and Donald Ross, variety in the natural features and characteristics is the essence of a truly outstanding golfing experience!
The naturalistic ethos of golf not only improves the lives of those directly connected to the game; it supports the health and vitality of the habitat and biodiversity in and around the playing landscape.
Golf is played on 39,000 courses in 209 countries, stewarding roughly 5 million acres of land across the world. Around 50% of the golfing landscape comprises natural and semi-natural habitats, including woodlands, wetlands, and grasslands. The variety of features and characteristics on a golf course landscape, including patches, edges, and corridors, can create the structural diversity, migratory channels, and land cover to support a relatively rich spectrum of life.
As well as providing purpose and play for millions of people, this habitat and biodiversity also creates ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, flood prevention, and heat and noise reduction for surrounding communities.
With as much as 70% of the world’s population expected to live in towns and cities by 2050, golf could make a particularly important contribution to creating and maintaining green space in densely populated urban areas.
Governments and land developers, for instance, are increasingly using golf as a green infrastructure to cool cities, create green jobs and restore degraded areas like landfill, mines, and quarries. Furthermore, because players pay to play in and around biodiversity, the fun and features of golf could even help to drive long-term nature-positive outcomes in economically viable ways.
Although golf courses are evolving and positively responding, there is an ever-increasing need to start to consider nature-positive strategies that not only protect existing biodiversity, but actively restore and enrich habitats and ecosystems.
Nature regeneration can be achieved across the various stages of golf course design and management - from initial planning and project development, to the day-to-day practices of club managers, greenskeepers and players. A range of nature-inspired projects and practices are evolving across these different aspects of golf, from ecological surveys at the earliest design stage to mapping habitats, prioritizing native species and educating golfers and the wider community.
With an intrinsic, longstanding connection to landscapes and ecosystems, golf can strengthen and showcase positive commitment and action on nature-positive. There is, however, a need to seize golf's natural advantage, further integrating the wonder, structure, and strategy of biodiversity into playing experiences, and continuing to have fun while improving ourselves, golf, and the future – always recognising that golf, sport, and society are #BetterWithNature