Renowned as a market leader in sports turf consultancy and research, the STRI offers independent help and advice for a host of sports and recreational facilities worldwide, including bowling, cricket, golf, horse racing, rugby, soccer and tennis, as well as training and education programmes for turf professionals, greenkeepers, groundstaff, and parks and grounds managers, for example.
Working closely with statutory conservation organisations like Natural England and many of the world’s sporting governing bodies, it’s Ecological and Environmental Department’s remit within its Environmental Impact Assessments embraces every aspect of the design, planning, construction and long-term management of new sports facilities. The team also provides practical ecological and environmental advice for clubs through the production of management plans which cover, for example, bio-diversity improvement, legal compliance in relation to pesticide management, water sourcing and application, waste and energy management, and carbon off-setting. Design of waste water management utilising reed bed filtration systems is also becoming increasingly popular.
Lee Penrose, Environmental Manager who consults globally on STRI projects, also carries out tree surveys and assessments for sports, schools and amenity clients. Ensuring that trees in public spaces are safe is essential, he says, especially in today’s litigious society. Many older trees also support nationally protected wildlife such as bats, and understanding such issues can avoid significant fines for disturbing or harming such creatures – in some cases £5,000 per animal!
“Having an environmental management plan sets a club apart from its competitors both financially and legally,” he says. “Aside from basic legal compliance, the plans work towards achieving cost-effectiveness and improved aesthetics. By developing bio-diversity, which is relevant to sites of
every size, the playing environment improves dramatically – and this helps attract new members or users and retain existing ones. It may not be immediately apparent, but it does have a proven impact.”
He continues: “Massive habitat loss and species decline has occurred over the years through unmanaged development and changing agricultural practices. If sport and recreation managers have the opportunity to create improved bio-diversity, even if it is just doing something to the perimeter of the site, then a start can be made to replace some of the lost habitats while proving they are also responsible land managers.”
Suggesting that this will become common practice as public knowledge increases, Lee Penrose adds: “The public are increasingly looking at their suppliers’ environmental credentials; it’s already happened in the supermarkets with fair trade brands flourishing and it is now being adopted by other retailers and hoteliers, for example. It won’t be long before users start to look for an eco brand when they decide where to spend their leisure time.”
Although 60-70 per cent of STRI work in this area is with golf clubs, increasingly private schools and universities are becoming receptive to good environmental practices as well as local councils, and football and rugby clubs.
Environmental issues aside, the STRI of course also gets involved in grass roots matters as well as consulting on new stadium builds and pitch constructions. For example, last year the institute teamed up with the ECB and IOG to deliver soil sampling as part of the pitch assessment for the cricket clubs involved with the PQS (Performance Quality Standards) pitch monitoring scheme.
Soil samples from the eight leagues (80 clubs) were interpreted by the STRI and, as ECB/IOG Fine Turf Manager, Martin Ford, explains: “Rather than supplying clubs with a series of statistics, the STRI actually explained what the results meant - for example if the soil was good for cricket with the correct clay and nutrient content, then that is what the report said. This was particularly useful for the club committees who therefore could understand the pitch and what investment would be required.
“Interestingly,” he continues, “the results for one club in the southern league showed low clay levels, yet the pitch played very well and the wicket was good. However, the levels of organic matter were also low, typically between 3-8 per cent, which enabled a good square to be maintained. At club level, you don’t need high clay content to produce a good wicket, but you do need a low level of organic matter.
“The most surprising thing about the results was the wide range of clay levels and the varying range of pH levels. The fundamental ingredient of any square is the right percentage of clay with not enough leads to the square breaking up because it dries out and crumbles.
“The results provided a real aid for the ECB Pitch Advisors who could then make assessments and recommendations using all the facts.”
The STRI maintains nine hectares of trial grounds, around which STAL had a guided tour from
Dr David Lawson (left), a soil chemist who has overseen more than 100 trials during his 25-year tenure at the institute.
A large area is dedicated to testing new cultivars for sports including golf and football, as well as amenity and lawn areas. The first stage of setting up a trial is to establish a drainage system below each trial area.
The soil is then prepared by sterilisation, removal of stones and firming of the surface. Cultivars are grown in trial plots and tested for disease and wear tolerance.
The type of wear will depend on the type of sport that the cultivar is intended for and specialist equipment is used to simulate wear for golf, tennis and football, for example. At the end of each year, each trial square is graded – and each trial runs for 3-4 years.
STRI also carries out work on behalf of the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Current projects include sports field establishment using compost made from food and green waste as an organic constituent of rootzones. Observations will be made on ground cover and colour.WRAP has also commissioned research to determine if compost helps stabilise soil against erosion.
Sustainable drainage on hard surfaces such as car parks is undergoing a two-year trial. The grids, which will be covered with grass, have drainage systems that measure the rate of water run-off. The idea is that cars will park over the grids (wheels on hard standing either side) which are designed to delay water moving into the drains and so prevent flooding. The next stage of the trial is to test the system in a real car park situation.
Research has also been carried out for English Heritage to prevent further erosion at visitor attractions including Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge. The intention is to prevent erosion while ensuring the attraction remains in keeping with the surrounds.
Keen to minimise the impact of any new construction, the Highways Agency is supporting research into reducing the amount of land used for verges. The Agency is funding research into the establishment of different grass species at a 45 deg angle. Road verges are usually at 25 deg and these consume a large area of land. By increasing the angle of the slope less space will be taken up by new constructions.
The trial will look at grass establishment, soil erosion and slippage at a 45 degree angle and is performed over four aspects - north, south, west and east to replicate the varying aspects of the road, with troughs at the bottom of each tray measuring erosion. Results to date show that creeping bent is performing particularly well.
The results of the trial may be used on the verges of the new section of the M1. The plants will be applied either by hydro seeding or turfing.