Hell for some, home for others!

At the beginning of July this year, we had a very interesting moving home story at St Andrews Links! Indeed it was a first. Sand martin activity was noted around the famous Hell Bunker and it wasn’t long before they decided to make it their new home.

To understand the reasons for this we have to go all the way back to April when our greenkeepers created sand martin sites in designated locations around the Links. In previous years, they had successfully nested across from a practice strip near the Jubilee Course and in an area just off the Eden Course. This year, we added a new site at West Sands. Like the others, it was designed to mimic the birds’ natural habitat. A heap of sandy soil was given a sheer face for the birds to burrow into and create their nests. This proved quite successful and at the beginning of the summer, they successfully reared one clutch of young within this sandbank.

Once fledged, the sand martins decided not to return to the West Sands site as the area became overgrown with tall annual weeds, in particular oil seed rape and common orache. With such foliage cover, the site suffers from an increased chance of predation from animals such as the opportunistic fox! This encouraged the birds to look slightly further afield to rear a second clutch of young.

As it happens, Hell Bunker seemed to suit them just fine and it wasn’t long before these industrious passerines had burrowed holes along the top of its two main faces! The bunker ticked all the boxes for a safe home: An almost vertical face, sandy soil with gaps which would make it easy for them to tunnel into, a bare face free from weed ingress and a solid foundation behind.

During a visit by the STRI’s ecologist, Bob Taylor, on 17 July, over 20 birds were recorded at Hell Bunker. Sand martins usually tunnel into a depth of about 1-1.5 metres and build chambers in the back to rear their young. As the nests are built just under the top of the bunker (about 300mm from the surface) they are at an increased risk of trampling and perhaps collapsing from golfers and indeed the general public keen to take a look at the famous bunker. Also the volume of traffic within the bunker and the continued disturbance of sand splash and general play contributed to the decision to protect the area.

A 3 metre cordon has been installed around the back of the bunker to mitigate the effects of trampling, and within the bunker, a cordon cuts off both the front face areas from play. The area within these cordons has been designated ‘ground under repair’ with a drop zone provided in an other area of the bunker. These will remain in place until all site activity ceases. Indeed throughout The Senior Open, the area was of quite an interest to golfers, fans and the media alike!

Sand martins are part of the swallow family and are seasonal visitors to Scotland, arriving from North Africa in April/May and returning in September/October. Our efforts over the last number of years have continued to attract them back. This winter, measures will be put in place to create a more permanent and safer habitat for these birds to nest. It is great to see wildlife flourishing on the Links and the golf course being such an attractive habitat for not only these birds but for a wide range of flora and fauna. Perhaps this time though it is a little too close to the action for our summer visitors!

Words by Fergal Cushen, Greenkeeper – the Old Course

Related Posts

Comments are closed.