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Suffolk golf courses refuge for linnets

PUBLISHED: 10:49 17 February 2009 | UPDATED: 22:31 05 July 2010

GOLF courses in Suffolk are a valuable refuge for linnet and have a crucial role to play in their conservation, say the findings of a recent survey conducted by volunteers working with Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

GOLF courses in Suffolk are a valuable refuge for linnet and have a crucial role to play in their conservation, say the findings of a recent survey conducted by volunteers working with Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

Linnet was once a common bird in the UK until changes in agriculture greatly reduced sources of farmland seed. These changes include the increased use of pesticides and herbicides, the switch to autumn sown crops and the loss of over-wintering stubbles. Now the birds are primarily found on golf courses where the mosaic of fairways, rough and scrub - particularly gorse - provide an ideal habitat.

“Twenty golf courses, selected for the presence of good areas of gorse, took part in the survey. We were delighted that linnets were recorded at 18 clubs which involved a total of 100 sightings,” says SWT's Susan Stone who organised the survey.

“The majority of feeding records were on the open fairways and practice grounds. These areas, although comparatively short, consist of native grasses and low growing flowers such as sheep's sorrel, chickweeds and hawkweeds. The regular cutting of their areas is likely to encourage repeat flowering and seeding and therefore a regular supply of seed for linnets. It is important to encourage native grasses and flowers by not using herbicides, fertilisers or irrigation.

“The busiest time for linnet is spring and early summer and breeding pairs have been confirmed at eight of the 20 golf courses, most of which have gorse - a favourite nesting habitat.”

Results show that later on in the year many of our linnets begin to leave the breeding areas, massing together in flocks and either heading for wintering grounds in Spain or to extensive sources of seed more characteristic of coastal saltings, over wintering stubbles and game strips. Areas of longer grass, particularly where allowed to over winter, with a ready supply of seed heads may well encourage linnets to linger longer on golf courses.

“The Trust aims to run another survey in a few years time but if anyone knows of any other golf courses where linnets have been seen or of any other courses that would like to take part in future then do let us know,” says Ms Stone.

All the linnet records received by Suffolk Wildlife Trust have also been registered with the British Trust for Ornithology for their new Bird Atlas of the British Isles. So the survey will not only have helped the Trust learn more about linnets but will also contribute to the national picture. Records have also been passed to the Suffolk Biological Records Centre to contribute to the county bird records. The survey took place with the support and co-operation of the Suffolk Golf Union.

For advice on the conservation management of golf courses contact the Suffolk Wildlife Trust on 01473 890089.

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