David Gray clearly knows something of the power of persuasion. During a bitterly cold snap at Dunnikier Park Golf Course in Kirkcaldy he helped to motivate eight volunteers to plant an impressive 405 new trees in 8 hours.  

As Golf Courses Manager at Fife Golf Trust (FGT) and with some 28 years’ experience in the industry, David fully understands the increasing importance of the sustainability and biodiversity of the seven courses of which he’s in charge.

FGT, which describes itself as “affordable golf in the home of golf” is a wholly owned subsidiary of Fife Council and is responsible for the management and operations of seven courses across the region – as one of the largest public golf facilities in Scotland more than 150,000 rounds are played annually across the courses.

In recent years, under the management of now CEO Paul Murphy, the organisation has developed its scope significantly to combine the participation, accessibility and competitive aspects of the game with a growing imperative that emphasises environmental sustainability.

This development has culminated in the trusts recently launched Seven Golf Courses for Nature project.

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The project was launched in autumn 2023 and includes an undertaking to plant 10,000 trees and hedgerows with careful selection of species to create valuable habitat for wildlife within some 544 hectares of greenspace. “That’s a pretty vast area and it’s wonderful to be able to showcase how the game of golf and wildlife are so intrinsically linked” explains Gray.

Paul Murphy was in Gray’s role for 12 years and both are now entrusted with the aim of environmentally friendly management, a mandate given to the trust by its funders Fife Council.

“We’re trying to maximise biodiversity and be as ecologically sensitive as possible and while we operate the courses primarily for the benefit of golf and those who want to play it, a growing aim is also to create a lot of habitats within that as well,” says Gray.

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A major boost to maximise biodiversity across all courses came from the internationally-recognised Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) certification that was awarded to the courses in 2017 and 2022 – and more specifically by the significant award of over £191,000 in funding last year from NatureScot as part of the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund (NRF).

The fund was established to support projects that restore wildlife and habitats on land and sea – and address the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change.

This, says Gray, will help deliver an extensive programme of work spanning the trust’s seven sites, enhancing habitats and overall biodiversity. All this activity includes some intriguing prospects – for instance, encouraging more wildflowers with richer meadow habitats, the creation of bee banks for mining bees, the installation of bird, owl and bat boxes and the sowing of wildflower areas for pollinators.

Interestingly, these bird boxes are planned to include homes for kestrels, one of our best-known birds of prey and classified in the UK as an Amber Listed species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review. “We are aware of Kestrels present in at least two of our sites, and we will be engaging with a local expert to install nest boxes to encourage breeding”.

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And in a modest reversal of history (James IV’s warship the Great Michael built at Newhaven was reputed to have consumed “all the woods of Fife”) local artist Colin Andrews has embarked on a project to create a new oak forest across the Kingdom by planting oaks he has propagated from acorns to 10-year-old saplings in the Akin Oak Project.  One of these trees Gray says will be planted at each of FGT’s courses with others likely to follow.

He is understandably elated by the significant funding award by NatureScot, something that helps establish a substantial platform on which to build determined efforts to confront climate change and its attendant environmental challenges.

It’s by no means, though, a one-person job. “When I joined one of the first things I was charged with was working closely with Johanna Willi who has assisted FGT for many years and is now our ecology advisor,” he says.

“Johanna is extremely clued up on all thing’s biodiversity. It was she who alerted us that the Nature Restoration Fund was available and something we should apply to for helping our sustainability plans. Both I and Paul worked with her to put a very ambitious bid together that represents a two-year project with a 10-year commitment.”

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The Trust couldn’t have done this, he adds, without Johanna’s expertise. “She has a lot of experience in the funding side of things and obviously with a project of this scale it wasn’t just something we could improvise as went along. We needed a plan and one that could transform our courses and meet our environmental goals”.

FGT was awarded over £191,000 and the project began in October last year, which was particularly pleasing as Gray notes that: “To receive the full quota of funding was amazing. We worked extremely hard to get the bid right and we were excited to get started”. Within the funding bid FGT were able to bring in a conservation worker to assist with the delivery of the project.

Heather Young, who is studying for an MSc in Wildlife and Conservation Management at SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College), works closely with the Trust’s 22 greenkeepers who are all highly engaged with the project he says.

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“The project is going great, Heather has really hit the ground running, has great knowledge and organisational skills, and has made great progress with the tree planting and wildflower sowing. It’s a real team effort, I’m very happy with how the staff have bought into the project, and it’s a sense of accomplishment for them taking ownership of their own contributions.

Gray emphasises the cooperation that he enjoys from SRUC and other local bodies that include Fife Coast Countryside Trust and the Eastern Lowland Red Squirrel Group.

“There are several different organisations we work with to access expertise in the different fields and help maximise the impact of the project – this collaborative approach is proving to be invaluable. A key for us is communicating what we are doing to the world, especially through our blog which provides valuable information of the project and offers a great educational insight”.

“We’re also very reliant on the enthusiasm of our volunteers as we’re not bringing in mass contractors to work on the project but accomplishing it from within, so we are reaping the rewards from that as well.”

The project is supported by Scottish Government's Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot.

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Fife Golf Trust’s seven courses

  1. Dunnikier Park Golf Course
  2. Kinghorn Golf Course
  3. Cowdenbeath Golf Course
  4. Glenrothes Golf Course
  5. Scoonie Golf Course
  6. Lochore Meadows Golf Course
  7. Auchterderran Golf Course