Interview: Making Birdies - Golf & Nature
Kieran Clark interviews wildlife filmmaker Bertie Allison about his film project which looks at the work of the Golf Environment Organisation focusing on Blairgowrie Golf Club and the St. Andrews Links showing how golf and nature can thrive together.
The video can be found at the end of the interview or by clicking here to scroll down.
Golf has a long and complicated relationship with nature. At times it has proven to be a damaging influence, with the construction and maintenance of many courses often having an adverse effect on the indigenous wildlife. The destruction of habitats has contributed to the decline of a number of species within the United Kingdom and further afield.
However, there is a progressive movement – spearheaded by the Golf Environment Organisation – that aims to rectify many of the ecological shortfalls that the game has produced by transforming courses into a haven for wildlife. Proving that it is possible for golf and nature to thrive together.
Bertie Allison, a 24-year-old wildlife filmmaker and keen golfer from Edinburgh, has combined his passion for the environment and love for the game to produce an informative and attractive film that documents and succinctly articulates golf’s partnership with nature.
Having just completed a master’s degree at the University of the West of England, ‘Making Birdies’ expresses Bertie’s talent as a filmmaker, which he has honed in the countryside of Scotland, the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, and the atmospheric streets of Barcelona.
With extensive footage taken at Blairgowrie Golf Club and the St. Andrews Links, Bertie’s expert camerawork provides stunning images of the courses and wildlife; complimenting the topics and discussion that is raised by an informative narration and interview with Jonathan Smith of the GEO.
In sharing the film with Golfshake, Bertie also kindly agreed to be interviewed; describing the process of completing the project, in addition to the significant work that has been done by the Golf Environment Organisation.
The video can be found at the end of the interview or by clicking here to scroll down.
Firstly, Bertie. Looking at the relationship between the natural world and the game of golf is certainly an intriguing project, and something that probably hasn’t been explored to its fullest extent. Where did the inspiration for this film come from?
As a golfer and environmentalist, I’ve always been intrigued by how the golfing world interacts with nature. Certainly, I knew of the rich biodiversity that can be found on many courses including Elie where I play and, often, the wildlife you spot makes up for a ruined scorecard. My brother also works for the Golf Environment Organisation so I knew that there is now a movement to try and improve how the whole industry works with the environment and to try and make all courses eco-friendly and sustainable.
In making the film, you received assistance from a number of organisations, including Blairgowrie Golf Club and the St. Andrews Links Trust. Just how helpful and welcoming were they in accommodating your film?
Everyone was fantastic in providing help. I had a lot of interest from other clubs that wanted to help so I was very lucky from the conception of the idea. Blairgowrie GC were brilliant, especially since I needed to spend a lot of time out on the course to film all the wildlife. They provided a buggy for me for an entire week and made me feel very welcome. I was also thrilled with how the members responded to me, asking me what I was filming and stating how proud they were of the nature on the course. I was delighted people didn’t take it for granted and were aware what was around them. St Andrews were also terrific, especially considering they were preparing for The Open and had many other people filming pieces. James Hutchinson, their Environmental Officer, had exceptional enthusiasm and helped us navigate around the courses at 5am to find all the animals.
The ten minute video is wonderfully shot, attractive to look at, and is undeniably informative. Just how long was the process of making the film; from conception to the finished piece?
The film is the culmination of a lot of work! I came up with the idea at the end of January and spent a few weeks researching locations (of which there were many potentials) and deciding which wildlife to work with. Concocting the story and the structure took more time, as did planning and doing all the required paperwork such as risk assessments. I finally went filming in the middle of May and gave myself 2 weeks for everything. This proved to be more than enough time and I only needed 10 days in the end. And that was still generous. The edit then took the longest amount of time. It was a full month in the edit suite trying different cuts of the film and changing anything where needed. There’s a lot that happens in the edit including making sure the colour matches shot-to-shot and editing and mixing the sound.
Looking at the more technical side of producing the film, what do you think are the keys to successful wildlife filmmaking? Is it a case of patience and the importance of timing, capturing that rare and beautiful shot?
Planning is a pretty crucial part of the process! I saved myself a lot of time and headaches by being organised. This helps the actual filming as well because I knew how to get the shots. Patience is really necessary for wildlife filmmaking because you just never know when things are going happen. I’ve got to say luck is also important though. Nature doesn’t read a script so even if you’ve heard an animal does something at the same time every day, you still need to be lucky for it to happen when you’re there with a camera.
The film succinctly details the development of the game through the centuries, and the consequences on the environment. For those who may not be fully aware, just how damaging can the construction and maintenance of golf courses be to indigenous wildlife and the ecosystem?
Golf can affect the environment in many ways from water use to loss of habitat to pesticide use. There’s also the use of equipment and expenditure of energy adding to the carbon footprint. The main issues come from modern courses that are built in areas with good natural habitat that need to be torn down to make way for the course. However, golf courses have often been built around the landscape without changing too much. Old links courses are particularly good for this. Also, a large number of courses are built on land reclaimed from agriculture and courses have actually been proven to be more friendly to nature that farmland so in comparison, this is a big plus for the environment.
The Red Squirrel is featured heavily in the film. Clearly a species that has experienced significant decline to the point of endangerment. What inspired you to use the Red as a key subject throughout the production?
The Red Squirrel is a hugely iconic species in the UK and it has a sad story. It also happens to be one of our cuter animals that very few British people have seen so it is effective in drawing viewers into the film. Finally, I think it’s amazing that a golf course could be such a fantastic place for it to thrive. It’s a great juxtaposition that an endangered species could survive somewhere that could put it under threat if they weren’t so brilliant in looking after the wildlife.
Having spoken with Jonathan Smith of the Golf Environmental Organisation, and witnessing the environmental work that has been carried out at Blairgowrie and St. Andrews, how impressed and encouraged are you by what is doing done?
I’m thrilled with everything that is happening. GEO are doing a great job in getting courses involved. They now have over 600 clubs in 40 countries around the world working with them, which gives me great optimism. It’s also great to see a prominent place such as St Andrews involved. They are world leaders that everyone looks to so are shouldering a huge responsibility. In terms of nature, Blairgowrie is the best course I have ever been to. They look at the smallest details and cover everything they possibly could. You can see how much it means to them by chatting to their staff who are all clued up with what’s on the course and where to find it.
This film will be viewed by many regular golfers, some of whom perhaps haven’t fully considered the affects that their courses can have on the environment. What do you hope they take away from watching the video?
I hope people become more aware about what’s around them when they are on the course. Everyone should realise that it’s a place we can share. It must be the only sport that can benefit both man and nature. Hopefully people notice the wildlife around them and enjoy their golf more. Golf can be more than just a sport.
Looking ahead, Bertie. With your master’s degree now completed, in addition to an obvious love and talent for wildlife filmmaking, what are your personal ambitions for the near future?
I hope to continue to make films that make people think. One positive from this project is that I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they hadn’t considered the subject before and they really enjoyed the story. At the moment, though, the first aim is to get a job! I’ve been lucky to already get some work with the BBC Natural History Unit and hopefully more opportunities pop up with wildlife production companies. I’m also considering contacting more golf clubs about doing videos promoting their courses and the wildlife on them. A lot of clubs wanted to feature in Making Birdies so there may be more opportunities there.
The Golf Environment Organization, GEO, is an international non-profit organisation dedicated entirely to providing a credible and accessible system of sustainability standards, support programmes, recognition, and capacity building for the golf industry. GEO believes that golf can become a leader in sustainable sport and business, universally valued for its positive role for nature and people. For more information please visit golfenvironment.org and discover the many golf facilities and organisations driving environmental and social improvements around the world.
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