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Misled by Prejudice
by Jim Arthur BSc[Agric]

Televised pictures of our Deputy Prime Minister up to his armpits in the recent floods, pontificating from the standpoint of his vast knowledge of climatology that the global warming is causing disastrous inundations of flood plains and verflowing rivers, induces ungenerous wishes that he would take a few more steps forward into even deeper waters - over his head. Global warming is of course not the only subject so prone to hype and misunderstanding.

Few would deny that there are slight changes in terrestrial and atmospheric temperatures but only one thing is certain, namely that there is no proven link between such small rises and the cataclysmic disasters forecast with such relish by our eco-warriors, whose enthusiasm and prejudice vastly exceeds their knowledge. The truth is that none of us know - and that includes me - and in the absence of reliable long term statistics, we are all guessing. One thing is sure and that is, that the likely effects, if any, are far less than the gloom and doom merchants forecast with such relish. Reports of huge increases in sea levels are sheer hype. The general view is that sea levels may rise by about 25 cms in a century. I often wonder how one can measure the sea rising about one tenth of an inch per year

The clash is really between meteorologists and climatologists. There is the same professional dislike between scientific geologists and political geographers. Climate and the weather are not the same things. Talk of the flooding of many of our famous links by phenomenal rises in the sea prompts me to enquire if you have seen any pigs flying by recently.

We are, of course , suffering from a very wet winter but the changes are well within the parameters of recorded extremes over the past century. The effects of such increased rainfall are, of course, much greater because of the vastly increased run-off from all the tarmac and roofs, as well as our habit in recent years of building on flood plains.

What annoys sceptics is that virtually no coverage of the other side is given in the media, though it is admitted that at the recent ecological conference at the Hague there was some attempt to redress this imbalance. Clearly the problem is highly political with a massive input by minority ecological pressure groups who ignore any data which do not agree with their prejudices. Contrary views that the world has not got significantly warmer for the last 50 years based on the evaluation of tree rings, polar ice cores etc; that only 4 of atmospheric carbon dioxide is caused by man [the balance being from volcanoes, marine emissions and even fauna and flora - yes plants respire CO2 when they are not photosynthesising]; that any changes are more probably due to solar emission - are totally ignored by our greens. We must ensure that we are not totally misled with disastrous consequences, not just for golf but for world economies, by climatologists on the make Equally we must beware that we do not listen to poorly educated advisers or greedy salesmen jumping onto a popular band-wagon.

What really arouses my wrath are statements that because of global warming we must anticipate and prepare for all manner of changes - the need for new ‘heat resistant’ grasses; the appearance of new diseases and pests; vastly more irrigation; and wholesale loss of our famous links courses and with them our traditional standards both of management and play. I see too often in reports by so called agronomists and unqualified advisers, that due to global warming new diseases are already appearing. This can and must be promptly debunked Qualified mycologists [of whom I am one] know from experience that looking down a microscope and identifying fungal spores and mycelia does not mean that fungus is causing problems in the turf. In any soil from under any green an experienced eye can find a host of micro-organisms, notably the crescent shaped spores of the fungus causing Fusarium patch disease, but only when the spore count is astronomical should a link be suspected and even then visual identification on the ground is essential.

Today, we have vast numbers of people peering down microscopes who have never walked on a golf green or, if they have, would not know even the grasses they were treading. They happily pronounce that they have discovered a new disease attacking UK turf. A typical example is Rhizoctonia solani, so confidently identified as causing an attack on fine turf. Whenever I have been asked to cross check, the cause is something akin to red thread or drought. Red thread [Laetisaria] is not easy to identify until it starts to produce the characteristic pink mycelial outgrowths [stoma]. The truth is that Rhizoctonia is ubiquitous in all our soils and the characteristic mycelia can be found everywhere, growing harmlessly as a saprophyte on dead tissues and never attacking living plants in temperate zones. Only when weather conditions never seen in temperate Europe occur, notably in the hot and humid States of the USA and especially when such conditions persist for weeks, does the fungus become parasitic and the resultant devastation is rapid and catastrophic. The required conditions [and I quote Dr Vargas the leading American mycologist, better known here for his disdain of the ‘Bugs in a Jug’ nonsense] are for daytime temperatures for weeks in the mid-80’s [30 oC], night time temperatures not falling below 21 - 26 oC, and extreme levels of humidity. When did any of my readers experience anything like these conditions - especially humidity - in Europe ?

Anyone who diagnoses a disease solely by identifying spores or mycelia in turf samples should be recycled for further training Other diseases wrongly identified from spores alone are Culvalaria and very often Dollar Spot which proves one thing, not global warming, but too many inexpert experts peering down microscopes, with little or no field experience

The same strictures apply to so called new pests, notably nematodes - old acquaintances of mine following over 65 years of looking at soil and turf down a microscope. Seeing a lot of them merely indicates to any sensible analyst that the soil is too wet or the turf too thatchy. They are symptoms not causes.

What is needed above all else is a return to sensible sound old fashioned greenkeeping, the basic principles of which have been proven over all the last century, both by practical men and by scientists on both sides of the Atlantic. This will produce sound all-year-round bent fescue greens and deflate our American experts [there were no less than 14 at a recent conference in Lancashire devoted almost totally to extolling the virtues of annual meadow grass ]. These were from the same stable as those who 20 years ago were assuring us that the grass of the future was Penncross, and where is it and its improvements now ? It can be done, as many at recent conferences have proclaimed, but it takes time and nerve. If your greens have suffered from gross over-feeding with NPK fertilisers, the resultant legacy may negate attempts at starving out this wretched weed grass. Then you have to take some agonising decisions. Opt for Poa dominance with all its problems; start again by rebuilding the greens on less fertile root zones; or work slowly and painfully towards better greens, facing years of attrition and discontented members. It needs strength of character, education and above all conviction to pursue the right course. Oh, what a mess most of our experts have bequeathed golf in the past half century


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