The stunning location of Crail Golfing Society on the most easterly tip of Fife, makes it an outstanding place for observing bird migrations, sea mammals passing offshore and, of course, seabirds. In addition, there is an abundance of wild flowers and other plants on and around the courses. The overall impact is an almost unique area, where golf and nature exist in harmony and each enhances the other.
The Craighead course was created largely on good arable land and the fertiliser residues continue to promote vigorous growth, especially in the uncut rough areas. This effect will diminish over time, so that native wildflowers, including the lovely Scottish bluebell, will flourish on Craighead as well as they do on Balcomie.
The area from the Craighead course and the sea has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Scottish Wildlife Trust has a reserve there, which runs along the shore between the 13th tee to the 7th green.
Two years after the Craighead course was finished, extensive plantings, which have significant wildlife value, were carried out in the rough. Only native plants, appropriate to a links course, were used, largely gorse and broom. Broom is short lived and although re-seeding itself in places, it is the gorse that dominates. It was planted with spacing, since this is more natural and allows more access for wayward golf balls! The greenkeeping staff ensure that these spaces remain open.
Also planted are wild rose and other species such as elder, rowan, willow, viburnum and whitebeam.
Benefits to Wildlife
The Craighead rough now has significant breeding and feeding benefits to wildlife, as well as safe nesting for skylarks, whose song flights in spring are a delight, and the gorse is beginning to provide nesting for linnets. Both these bird species are in serious decline in the U.K., so these colonies are important. There are also many meadow pipits breeding.
What ultimately will be of the greatest benefit to wildlife is the large store of winter food in the seeds of the grass and flower species in the roughs. In winter, the tip of Fife is usually snow free and often many hundreds, occasionally thousands, of skylarks move in for refuge and even snow buntings have been seen feeding.
The beautiful Isle of May, which is a visual feature of the Craighead course, is a National Nature Reserve with brilliant seabird colonies and a large colony of the autumn breeding grey seal. Occasionally on a calm day, bottle-nosed dolphins, harbour porpoises and even minke whales can be seen in the channel between the island and the Craighead shore. A few years ago there was even a humpback whale seen breaching offshore.
The rocks adjacent to the 15th and 16th holes on Balcomie always have various seabirds resting on them. There are many large black shags there at all times of the year. These breed in large numbers on the Isle of May. There may also be the slightly larger cormorant present and throughout the year, the black and white male eider ducks, and the brown females, are ever-present. The most obvious seabird flying by, and frequently making spectacular dives into shoals of fish, is the gannet. The adults have snow white plumage with black tips to their long wings and a cream head.
St Andrews Bay is a protected fishery area because its shallow waters are a major breeding ground for fish. Trawlers are not allowed and the small fishing boats seen offshore are fishing for lobster, as well as edible crabs. During the summer months, guillemots, puffins and razorbills may be seen moving between the Isle of May and St Andrews Bay. A local bird ringing programme has ringed more than a thousand storm petrels, and manx shearwaters regularly pass the Ness during the summer, as do the southern hemisphere sooty shearwaters, and a few years ago even an albatross.
Fife Ness is nationally famous as a place to watch bird migration. In spring and autumn many thousands of geese pass by and in early June, the large black and white Canada geese go north to moult and become flightless on the Beauly Firth by Inverness. They return southwards in early autumn. In October, large flocks of pink-footed geese and greylag geese arrive to winter here.
Under certain weather conditions, migrating birds lose their way and finish up, lost and tired, on Scotland’s east coast. Sometimes hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blackbirds may be seen tumbling out of the clouds. There will be many other species as well, sometimes including very rare birds. These birds carry on with their journeys when the weather clears.
Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve
Set within the Craighead course, between the 11th and 12th fairways, is a small wood, which is a Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve. This area has been a migration study site since the 1960s. Birds are caught here, ringed, weighed, measured and released. Birds ringed here have been found as far south as the Sahara.
Now, 40 years after the Reserve was planted and the ringing station established, there are large trees on the Reserve and although many provide berried food, shelter is what birds need most when on migration. There are nearly 60 species of tree and shrub providing that shelter, but not all are native. They include small numbers of buddleia to cater for the many butterfly migrants which also arrive, including red admirals, painted ladies and peacocks.
A major drive to cut carbon emissions and reduce energy costs was undertaken in 2013. Involving additional insulation, as well as the installation of solar panels on the clubhouse, the major item was the replacement of the oil fired boiler with a biomass boiler in the clubhouse. The project has cut energy costs by a third and reduced the Society’s carbon footprint substantially. These benefits will continue to be enjoyed well into the future.