Photo: The Struie saltmarsh captured by Lee Collier Drone Imagery
ROYAL Dornoch Golf Club captured the Sustainable Project of the Year accolade at the Golf Environment Awards held in Harrogate.
Scott Aitchison, deputy course manager, hopes the award will encourage golf clubs around the country to persevere with ambitious conservation plans of their own.
Royal Dornoch, shortlisted along with Carnoustie Links, Kingarrock Hickory Club and the St Andrews Links Trust, was hailed for the club’s commitment to halting coastal erosion which has been threatening an area of the Struie Course.
The 29th annual Awards, hosted by the STRI Group, took place during the BIGGA Turf Management Week in Yorkshire, which attracted golf club representatives from home and abroad.
Royal Dornoch was recognised for “implementing a successful sustainable project with clear objectives and targets that contribute to a more sustainable environment.”
In addition to a £750 winner’s cheque, a visit to Royal Dornoch will be teed-up from the STRI Group’s agronomy team.
Scott highlighted the key roles played by Green Shores, the University of St Andrews and NatureScot, along with volunteers and youngsters from Dornoch Academy, in supporting the greenkeeping team’s innovative strategy to protect degraded saltmarsh habitat.
“It’s a case of patience finally paying off and it has been very much a collaborative effort since trials began seven years ago,” said Scott.
“It was a real thrill receiving the Sustainability Award in front of our peers and colleagues in the industry and we were shortlisted in very good company.
“All of us in the industry are learning as we go along and inspiring each other in terms of sustainability, with The R&A 2030 initiative encouraging us to ever greater efforts.
“Nature-based solutions are increasingly necessary to help the natural resilience of our coastlines and buy time for longer term planning.
“In our case we are determined to conserve and enhance the natural links land to ensure world-class golf can be played at Royal Dornoch for generations to come.”
Rather than install gabion baskets of stone to prevent erosion which had been threatening the salt marshes, the club cast around for natural solutions to the threat posed by the Dornoch Firth.
“It wasn’t an overnight success, but the club funded research by Dr Clare Maynard at the University of St Andrews and along with Dr Alistair Rennie, the project manager with NatureScot, and Green Shores we stuck to our guns. Now we are seeing very real signs of progress,” explained Scott.
“We began with a band of chestnut fencing to mitigate the effect of high tides and encourage repopulation of the salt grasses with native plants being grown and planted out by staff and youngsters at Dornoch Academy.
“We changed tack when that wasn’t working as well as we’d have liked, and we have been rewarded after installing staked out, biodegradable coir rolls to provide wave breaks and encourage regeneration.”
Dr Maynard said: “We are delighted that Royal Dornoch Golf Club has won this award, which highlights the importance of saltmarsh habitat in the Dornoch Firth.
“Saltmarsh is recognised for its role in protecting valuable land from coastal flooding and erosion, storing carbon to help combat climate change, and providing habitat to a range of wildlife.
“We are pleased to continue the vital restoration work with the club, along with the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, and other partners.
“Last but by no means least, thanks also to the dozens of volunteers from Dornoch Academy and the local community, without whom the work is not possible.”