Sunday, 20 September 2015

Heather, Heather everywhere

One of the great success stories at Stoneham for the year 2015 will not just be the new ditch at 17th (which is great and runs amazingly in the wet) or the new 9th path (again fantastic and huge investment by the Management Committee) but for me the natural success story of the heather regeneration. 

The combination of the woodland management project and allowing the long roughs to grow have made a huge impact on this. The heather that was once there before is starting to return. My memories of playing Stoneham when I was younger is of the heather and how amazing it looked. 

We have three different types of heather on site (that I have seen so far, not including garden heathers around the clubhouse). These are:-

Common Heather (Calluna vulgaris) 

This Heather or Ling as it sometimes known has smaller leaf than the others  and it can be a pink or white (the white flower is called lucky white) is normally in low nutrient areas but it can also be found in mature conifer woodlands, often along with Cross-leaved Heath and Bell Heather, particularly where selective felling has created small clearings or a patchwork of light and shade. Funny enough it is the most common heather... Who would have thought with the name!! 

Bell Heather (Erica cinerea)

Bell Heather is slightly larger with the flower looking a lot more bell like (see above). 

And Cross Leaved Heather (Erica tetralix)

This is slightly darker than bell and leafs are across from each other. It also has a fantastic smell and prefers wetter soil types like clay. It's very common in the New forset. 

Back to where I was (sorry if I got side tracked)... By not cutting it this year with the rough mower we have seen more and more reappearing. It obviously (like most people) didn't like being cut in half or allowed to grow! 

Another contributing factor was the use of the mulcher that cleared out the woodlands at the end of the woodland project.  This basically rotavated up the ground in and around the woodland giving air to the once dormant heather seed. See photo above, you can see the Heather coming back through the bare soil. 

Heather seed can lay dormant for around 75 years in the soil and still be brought back to life with different techniques. 
These will include stripping of areas by removing the turf with a turf cutter. Some times the area is then hollow tined to help or like I said above a simple rotavate in the correct area and lots of patients! 

In the coming months and years we will be trailing some of these techniques along with heather plugging using heather turfs (does what it says on the tin) 

Brashings (collecting seeds from other areas and laying on top of bare ground) to improve these areas and regenerate some of the old now lost areas. 

I must say having Charlie on the team with his wealth of experience (42 years) at Stoneham does help here as he can remember in detail where the heather used to be. Now I would say don't panic if heather isn't your thing as its not like the entire course will be covered but selected areas and remember it's a slow growing plant to establish and could take years.Plus, I am sure the standard of golfer you are, you wouldn't possibly miss a fairway ;-) 

So what have we been doing with the heather? 

Last winter before I arrived Graham Hastie (deputy) and the team collected heather brashings from the South Downs and placed these all over the bank at the 8th where the huge rhododendron bush once sat. Within 6 months we have started to see heather coming through. Pretty amazing as you can wait up to 5 years for some signs of regeneration. 
This area will still require work but this is a great story and one we continue with. 

Other works we have been doing have included strimming out some of the heather features. This basically removes the grass cover and highlights the heather improving both the golfing strategy and the aesthetic's. The heathers competition from the grasses lowers and the plant health improves.
This will also be carried out at the end of the season as a sort of pruning of the heather. This will also drop some of the seed from the flower back into those areas where we are trying to promote it. 

We have been using a demo of a Grillo machine. This machine has a dedicated heather system available on it. It cuts and collects long roughs above the heathland, by collecting the long grasses we not only improve the light to the heather plant but it collects the seeds from the grasses before it has chance to drop amongst the heather and smother it as it starts to grow. 

We can also use this machine to collect heather seeds once flowered and use these in other areas as we try to establish lost areas again (and by the way it's great for leaves in the winter too). 

Removal of saplings, gorse, weeds and any other unwanted species has been an ongoing project within the heathland areas. Some of this work has been undertaken by some of the members (guided by Neil), I would like to thank them for the help and dedication. Thank you all. 

One of the last things we have done is to spray the heather areas with a chemical to remove the coarser grass species including Purple Moor grass. These coarse grass species eventually choke out the heather if not removed and this is the best way to achieve our goal. 
Above you can see the invasion of the coarser grass species (dark green) by removing these, the Heather will flourish and get better and better. 
I will report more on this in future blogs. 

Lastly, one of my favourite looks out on the course is the Heather faced bunkers and banks. These are fantastic and will be something we will be looking at working on in the coming years! 

Okay enough from me again. Just wanted to highlight the fact that the heathland is popping up all over the course and what we are doing to improve it. 

Remember Please don't take your trolleys through the Heather as this could kill it and undo all of the hard work going into it. We will soon be marking areas with posts (thanks John) to warn you of areas we want trolleys kept well away from. 

Bringing our heathland back is not just an option but an obligation! 


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