Why is gorse management so important?

Across the UK, the management of gorse bushes now plays a crucial role in the maintenance and appearance of many golf courses. This is especially true for links style courses like ours here in St Andrews.

In 2005 a 12 year rolling plan for gorse management on the Old Course was drawn up by the STRI (prior to that, particular areas were cut at random during inclement weather). Since then, work has been ongoing in a planned manner to create healthier and more ecologically beneficial stands of gorse through coppicing the plant when it has become leggy and degenerate and completely removing it in certain areas where it impacts negatively on play or the layout of the course.

There are numerous benefits of correctly managed gorse. When done effectively, it can provide nesting sites for songbirds such as the linnet (pictured below), blackbird, stonechat and yellowhammer, all of which can be seen on the Old Course and some of which are on the endangered species list. Gorse also has a long flowering period (header image), providing a welcome source of nectar for the birds and invertebrates in early spring and even winter. Throughout the year, if you look closely, there is always the odd plant in bloom.


Gorse management is certainly not simply cutting the gorse down and allowing it to regrow. Managing this aggressive plant means topping it, (retaining a height of 1-1.5 metres), coppicing it (cutting it back to stumps 150-300mm above ground), and sometimes even completely removing it. This is all dependent on the condition of the stand and its strategic position on the course. Below is an example of a 50% rotational coppice on the right of the 15th hole of the Old Course. Half this area was cut down to 150mm above ground in 2012 and allowed to regrow to 1-1.5 metres and the remaining half (nearest the fairway) was then cut down in the winter period of 2015/16.

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The aim is to create a denser stand with a diversity of structure throughout the course. This will provide a variety of ecological niches, maximising the environmental value which the course provides. In order to achieve this, the STRI outlined several different management prescriptions for the different gorse areas on the Old Course. A large amount of removal in one area can have an adverse effect on the flora and fauna, therefore it’s important to strike a balance. Keeping on top of its regrowth in unwanted areas is also important, whether it’s removing it from heather stands or making sure it doesn’t encroach on open grassland and other important natural habitats on the Old Course. Below we can see the removal of young gorse on the 6th carry of the Old Course, an area of the course where heather has traditionally thrived. The top right corner of the photo shows some well managed gorse.

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It’s also just as important to view gorse management from the golfer’s perspective in terms of the strategic and aesthetic importance. When it has not been managed properly it can impede sight lines, creating restricted views, not only of the areas in play, but also on a wider scale. On a famous Links, like the Home of Golf, part of the experience is taking in the iconic views of the ‘Auld Grey Toun’. Gorse which is well maintained adds to the overall layout of the course while golfers can enjoy the views all around them, including the increased diversity of flora and fauna. It only takes about 10-15 years for stands of gorse to lose their compactness, so the management of this vigorous plant is an ongoing job.

Words by Fergal Cushen, Greenkeeper – the Old Course

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