Eco award for north-east Fife project to bolster kestrel numbers

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An ambitious project to bolster kestrel numbers in North East Fife has won a coveted ecological award as part of the prestigious Golf Environment Awards after an incredible 21 chicks were fledged over a four-year period.

The Kestrel Project was introduced by the St Andrews Links Trust greenkeeping team at the Castle Course in 2019 in an attempt to halt an alarming 80 per cent drop in Kestrel numbers in the area.

As part of the project a breeding box fitted with a camera was installed at the course, perched on a grassland clifftop to the east of St Andrews, and has been used by a breeding pair ever since.

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The pair, dubbed Kes and Mrs Kes by the team at the Castle Course, have gone on to fledge a total of 21 chicks since then, including six in 2022.

The project has now been recognised as the Ecological Project of the Year at the 2023 Golf Environment Awards, which seeks to highlight the increasingly important role golf courses play in protecting and enhancing the local environment.

Trevor Harris, who is now part of St Andrews Links Trust’s West Sands Rangers team, introduced the project during his time as a greenkeeper at the Castle Course.

He said: “I’m incredibly proud at the success of the project and to have helped the introduction of 21 chicks since 2019 definitely surpasses our initial expectations. Wildlife and habitat conservation is a huge passion of mine as it is for many of us at the Links who work outdoors among the habitat and wildlife every day.

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“Over the years the Kestrel count in the area had reduced by something like 80 per cent due to farming, habitat change and lack of grassland so we were determined to arrest this as part of a number of ongoing conservation projects across our site.

Ringing kestrels before they fledgeRinging kestrels before they fledge
Ringing kestrels before they fledge

“The breeding pair were initially young and inexperienced but over the years they’ve become more confident and we’ve seen year on year increases in the number of chicks fledged. We hope they’ll return for many years to come.”

The breeding process is continually monitored through the camera in the breeding box to check the number and size of any eggs as well the progress of the chicks once hatched. As part of the project, each chick is ringed, weighed and checked by the Tay Ringing Group prior to fledging to feed data into the national framework. This allows for the potential for the birds to be tracked if the ring is collected.

A short highlights reel from the breeding box can be seen on the St Andrews Links Trust’s Youtube channel here:

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In addition to the Ecological Project of the Year, St Andrews Links Trust was also a finalist in the Sustainable Project of the Year category for its Nature Scot Nature Restoration Funded work on West Sands beach in February and March 2022. The sand dune restoration project saw two new sand dunes created and two very low hollows raised and replanted with Lyme and Marram grass by volunteers over nine days.

Kestrel hen with six chicksKestrel hen with six chicks
Kestrel hen with six chicks

Sandy Reid, Director of Greenkeeping at St Andrews Links Trust, said: “Conservation and preservation of the natural habitat and its wildlife is a hugely important part of our role across the Links and it is terrific to see those efforts recognised by the Golf Environment Awards.

“The Kestrel Project in particular has been a real labour of love for Trevor over the last few years and I am delighted for him to have been given this accolade.

“Working in in an environmentally sustainable way has never been more important and as an organisation with responsibility for not only the Links itself but the West Sands, it’s something we take extremely seriously.”

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