Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What is Operation Pollinator?

Operation Pollinator is a program which started in the United Kingdom in 2010 and which is funded by Syngenta.  The purpose of the program is to create native wildflower banks on golf courses, which could then serve as sources of pollen and nectar sources and refuges for native pollinators and other beneficial insects, such as parasitoids and predators.  Several hundred golf courses are currently participating in Great Britain.

Most golf courses, while quite aesthetically pleasing, are fairly barren of plant, insect, and vertebrate biodiversity for two basic reasons:

First, it takes a very high input level to maintain the aesthetic charm and faultless playing surfaces of traditional golf courses.  These high inputs often take the form of:
  • Fertilizers
  • Irrigation
  • Herbicides
  • Fungicides
  • Pesticides
  • Mowing
Together, these inputs create not only a heavy economic burden, but also a heavy environmental burden.  It is very difficult for wildlife to continue to live on golf courses due to their populations' constant displacement, whether chemical or physical.

Second, there is very little variation in the landscape of traditional golf courses.  It's pretty much the same two or three species of turfgrass, cut at rough height, collar height, or putting green height.  Aside from a handful of ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowering annuals, that's it.  The near complete lack of architectural and plant species diversity severely limits the species diversity of arthropods which can live on golf courses.

Operation Pollinator will hopefully help to change that.  We have pioneered the first branch of Operation Pollinator for turf systems in the United States.  We began this project in September 2011, and over the next several seasons we will be evaluating the three wildflower seed mixes we developed for this project--both for appropriateness to the landscape and to native pollinators.  By the end of the project, I hope to have created a single appropriate seed mixture which can then be used by golf course superintendents over a large part of the Midwest and South to beautify and their golf courses while also creating refuges for our struggling native pollinators (and creating areas that don't need fertilizer, mowing, irrigation, pesticides, etc.).

Besides, who wouldn't rather look at this...

than this?

There are several other trends towards increasing the habitat complexity of golf courses, and therefore increasing populations of beneficial insects, but I'll talk more about that at some other time.

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