Spencer Cooper, the golf course superintendent at The Links. Photo: Myron Rabinowitz
GEORGE NEWS - A golf course that is also a wildlife sanctuary is a contradiction in terms, yet Fancourt's Links Course is the closest "natural fynbos habitat" to the centre of George. Granted, it is a re-established wildlife protection area.
Fifteen years ago the site was, in conservation terms, a wasteland. It consisted of alien infested agricultural land, the concrete runways of the old George airfield, a few buildings, the old town dump and our own South African favourite that overwhelms and smothers our biodiversity - kikuyu lawn. The soil was contaminated and there was very little bio-diversity.
The Links was added to Fancourt in 2000.
A further contradiction in terms was that although The Links was designed to reflect a classic Scottish links golf course, the vegetation type that was used to give it "the look" is indigenous fynbos species. Spencer Cooper, the golf course superintendent at The Links told the George Herald: "The fynbos has naturally attracted the local fauna and it also protects the 15ha wetlands area that was created to retain run-off water from the course. Water purification is by means of the introduced indigenous macrophytic plants. These are plants that filter nutrients and chemicals out of the water and then slowly release the water into the Malgas River system.
"The clearing of alien invasive plant species has been underway for more than five years with 10ha having been cleared already and will be ongoing along with our follow-up clearing programmes. It took four to five years for some of the indigenous plants to become established and ages for the undergrowth to come through as the original soil was mostly sterile. A total of 750 00cu m of soil was moved on the site to construct the course. All the soil was on the property and no soil was brought in."
In 2011 The Links was declared a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. This prized conservation accolade is from the Audubon International Society, an American, non-profit environmental organisation dedicated to conservation.
Three kilometres from the CBD of George, 121 indigenous bird species have been identified. Felled alien eucalyptus tree branches have become strategically placed raptor perches and are used by birds of prey for surveillance and hunting purposes. The Cape and spotted eagle owls can be seen making use of the perches in the evenings and early mornings. Long-crested eagles, lanner falcons, forest buzzards, jackal buzzards, pale chanting goshawks and the black-shouldered kites make use of them as well. The rodents inhabiting the long grass of The Links course have encouraged more bird species to take up permanent residency on the course. The increase in avian raptors has kept the rodent population under control. Added to this, perches have been erected in the wetlands and many wetland birds make use of them including malachite kingfishers and giant kingfishers.
A wide range of mammals including caracal (lynx), African clawless otters, grysbok, common duiker, bushbuck, African porcupine, vervet monkeys, large grey mongoose, three tortoise species, snakes and bats have made a home for themselves near the CBD.
Another contradiction in terms is that this golf course offers sanctuary to certain species of animals that are rescued by neighbouring landowners and caring George residents. The ongoing programme of planting indigenous fynbos will strengthen the wildlife component of the commitment by Fancourt to make a difference in the lives of all the people of George. The Links at Fancourt is keen to be the environmental leaders in the industry and are proof that if managed correctly a golf course can benefit the community as well as the environment.
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