COUNTY golfers will know too well their balls have an uncanny knack of ending up in the sand. . . but not usually a mile-and-a-half away on a beach!

A well-known professor was surprised to find more than 160 golf balls on the beach at Musselburgh, near the mouth of the River Esk, on October 21 following torrential rain on the Saturday.

Roger Crofts CBE, founder chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage and a director of the Esk Valley Trust, found about 165 golf balls amongst other debris, such as tree branches and plastics, as he walked his dogs along Fisherrow Sands.

He reckoned the balls had been lost over the years by golfers at Musselburgh Golf Club, which is well over a mile away at Monktonhall. The River Esk snakes around the edge of the course.

Prof Crofts expressed concern that dogs could easily swallow them, resulting in “large vet bills” for owners.

After returning the balls to the club, he has issued a call for the flood protection scheme, currently being drawn up for Musselburgh, to include measures to slow down water coming off the Pentland and Moorfoot Hills where the North and South Esk rise.

Prof Crofts, of Musselburgh’s Eskside West, a geography expert who has worked as a research scientist in Scotland, said: “Along the golf course there are very soft banks and you can see where they have been cut back, and probably there was some rough at the end of the fairway where lots of people have lost balls.

“We cannot stop leaves and tree trunks being brought down the river but the speed of rise of the water level and its velocity shows that any flood prevention scheme for Musselburgh needs to look hard at measures to slow down water coming off the hills and into the river. Without this, the erection of walls being proposed in Musselburgh will not be public money well spent.

“Many of us feel the importance of the amenity of this stretch of the river – it is very fine.”

He said a tree planting scheme using native species should be discussed with landowners in the headwaters of the Esk catchment area, as government grants were available for such work.

He said: “I am talking about hundreds of thousands of trees maybe. Careful hand planting of trees is best rather than using tractors to dig ditches to prepare the land for planting as this would aggravate the problem by increasing the rate of water running off the hills. The trees would take up water from the soil.

“The use of the reservoirs on the North and South Esk and the temporary flooding of the flat land along the river should be seriously investigated to store water during heavy rainfall and therefore slow the release of water into the river.

“If you look at the flood issue, it’s caused by the river rising very fast but it’s made worse if there are high spring tides and a storm surge in the North Sea, and also a northerly wind across the estuary which piles the water up high and stops the river water escaping for a couple of hours either side of high tide.”

Professor Crofts has raised his concerns with consultants who are drawing up the Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme and he has also made local councillors aware of his views.

As for the coast, he highlighted small sand dunes which formed a natural barrier with grasses, which, below the ground level, had yards of roots acting as a natural catcher of the sand.

Jackie Lambert, captain of Musselburgh Golf Club, said: “The club was unaware of the issue regarding golf balls being found on the beach near the mouth of the River Esk.

“Whilst, the figure of 165 golf balls is significant, it is unknown over what timescale these balls have accumulated and if they are all, indeed, from the course.

“Notwithstanding this, the golf club will happily participate in any working group looking at the wider issues of flood protection and the environment in and around Musselburgh. However, at this time we have not been invited to join any group.”