One of the ongoing nightmares for grounds staff is that the public and players don’t regard grass as a crop which needs nurturing like any other. They expect it to be green all year round and the right consistency regardless of the weather. If it’s a public space such as Bath Recreation Ground, there’s no respect – it’s fair game for camping, concerts, barbecues, school use and dog walkers – a lovely amenity but difficult to maintain.
Regardless of their use or ownership, sports pitches need lots of TLC from a dedicated groundscare team if they are truly to fulfil their intended purpose. As well as routine maintenance, mowing, line marking, irrigating, vertidraining and scarification, they will need feeding in spring, autumn and maybe midsummer. Often, if the site involves winter sports pitches, bowls or cricket, they can require a complete renovation in spring or autumn.
Routine maintenance will be taken care of by the permanent groundstaff, but what happens if despite all this care, sports grounds don’t drain properly because of their soil profile, overuse, compaction, thatch or poor construction? It could be time to call in a specialist groundscare contractor.
Wiltshire- based Ecosol Turfcare can perform a variety of operations on contract. These range from drainage and aeration, fertilising and reseeding to end of season renovation and complete pitch construction. For pitches that are slow to drain and grow, compacted or have thatch and black grass It operates the unique Drill n Fill aerator. Its ability to gently fold back the turf, drill down to 30 cm with a grid of drills, take out the spoil and backfill it with either pure kiln-dried sand or a mix of sand and soil amendment, has numerous benefits for golf and bowls greens, cricket squares, centre circles and goal mouth areas. The ducts created last for over a year, allowing surface water to percolate off the surface, through obstructions caused by thatch or compaction and into the rootzone and drainage layer. Soil amendments in the backfill get down to the plant’s roots – allowing improved uptake of nutrients; increased cation exchange capacity and better germination.
Sports pitches which remain consistently waterlogged despite routine aeration and surface maintenance may well have reached the point where installation of primary or secondary drainage systems is the only means of alleviating the problem.
Primary drainage comprises a matrix of underground pipework that allows water to enter the pipes and then be carried away to an outfall point – usually a ditch but sometimes a soakaway system. The matrix is made up of a main or carrier drain that has a system of lateral drains feeding into it, with the laterals usually being confined beneath the playing surface. The spacing between these laterals is determined by influencing factors, for example, soil type, annual rainfall data for the locality and level of use required and this leads to a range of between 3m and 6m spacings. Following the creation of trenches, pipes are laid within them and covered with specified gravel, before the upper section of the trench is topped with a suitable high infiltration rate sand-based rootzone. Seeding completes the operation.
A playing surface which already has a primary drainage system beneath it but is still unacceptably wet, could benefit from a secondary drainage system placed at 90 o to the primary trenches. This secondary system can be excavated sand slits (such as those installed by the KORO Topdrain) or they can be excavated gravel and sand slits (installed with a wheel-type trencher). The principle is to create an intensive, narrow-spaced system of slits over the top that gives a link between the playing surface and the gravel infill above the pipes in the primary system. Water then runs off the surface, along the slits to the primary drain trench and then away.
Clients range from Premier league clubs to village sports fields. Harlequins Rugby, in Twickenham was a satisfied client. “We had reached crisis time with our pitch,” says Paul Sykes, head groundsman. “The playing surface in the south-east corner of the pitch had gone black with algae because it was constantly waterlogged. Initially, Ecosol Turfcare came into Drill n Fill it but we then discovered that the drain had failed in that area.” Paul had a new main drain installed which ran the length of the pitch and was reconnected to the existing lateral pipes.
However, the pitch was still slow-draining and kept cutting up. Ecosol Turfcare then boosted the primary drainage system by installing further lateral pipes in between the existing ones, backed up by a secondary system of excavated sand and gravel slits placed at 90° to the laterals to carry water off the surface promptly.
The result has been amazing, says Paul. “The grid system they created is brilliant. I feel that I know my pitch again now – how to treat it, when we can get on it – it drains quickly after heavy rain and the grass is green and healthy.”