Harvesting rainwater - Addington Cricket Club explain their methods

Neville Johnsonin Industry News

AddingtonIrrigation"A £20,000 investment to save less than £1,000 a year? A twenty year payback? That's the issue we've got in cricket. The problem is we seem to be the only country that still uses drinking water to irrigate sportsfields and gardens. At £1.30 a cubic metre, no wonder our friends downunder think we're crazy."

Addington, midway between Sevenoaks and Maidstone, is not a large community, but its cricket club, though modest, is a very active one. There are two Saturday and two Sunday sides in the Kent League and Kent Village League, and a myriad of junior matches are held on the ground. In its current form it was started in 1958, when the village acquired a field for recreation purposes, though records show there was a village cricket club dating back three hundred years. Nowadays, there are fifty or sixty playing members.

PeterRobinsonPeter Robinson came to the village in 1968, initially just to play a game of cricket at the invitation of a Loughborough University friend. He was hooked on the village and its cricket, and has stayed there ever since. His house is just yards from the boundary. That's how close to things he is.

It is rainwater harvesting that now puts this delightful club on the map, and Peter has been very much the architect of this. All the village's recreation facilities are on the site, and herein lies the key to the success of what is a first in cricket square maintenance. A pavilion, a village hall, and a groundsman's 'hut', all lined up adjacent to one another, provide the perfect conduit to this simplest of irrigation systems. In other words, there's lots of roof space to gather what the heavens offer.

Defra held a drought summit earlier this year, and has already placed the south east of England officially in a state of drought. Water companies in the region are applying for Drought Orders. Groundwater levels, in places, are lower than during the infamous drought of 1976, and soil moisture deficits in the South East and East Anglia already exceed those of February that year, according to the Environment Agency.

It has to be serious then, and unlikely to improve as spring arrives and trees and plant life begin to take up more and more of what's left. The four-minute shower and waterproof egg timers might sound a joke, but they could soon be a 2012 lifestyle.

It was after the 1976 drought that the first dispensation for cricket clubs against Drought Orders came into place.

"You were allowed to water for one hour a week, only in the evening," Peter recalls.

AddingtonPavilions"It was best to do this as soon after your weekend games as possible to give pitches time to recover in time for the next matches. It seemed to get clubs through, but only just."

As a new serious water shortage looms, the Addington Village Club is ahead of the game and ahead of all other cricket clubs. Things actually got started in 2006 when Peter applied for a grant, on its behalf, from the ECB's 'Go Green' campaign, which encouraged clubs to look to environmentally friendly running cost reduction. The club was already in the middle of planning general facility development, so it was a welcome addition to funding. It was a time of drought too, not as dire as it looks like being this year, but bad enough to be concerned about restricted irrigation, and it was the simple, yet untried, idea of water harvesting that was at the core of the club's application for a grant.

Drought Orders were in place in 2006 and Defra went through the Appeal process, which happens as soon as water companies start talking about pressure on their stocks. An inspector will always say that people's supplies come first, then decides the pecking order from all other quarters, sports facilities included.

AddingtonOutfieldPeter made the case for the cricket club, emphasising how the game would suffer a huge set-back, after the then Ashes euphoria, if pitches were allowed to go dry. The water companies conceded a one hour a week dispensation after 7.00pm, as before. At this appeal meeting, a representative of Mid-Kent Water came up to Peter and asked him if he'd ever thought about water harvesting, and offered to do a free feasibility study. He hadn't, and accepted the offer.

"For rainwater harvesting, the club is luckier than most in terms of having a lot of available roof space, and this ticked a lot of boxes in the water company's feasibility study," says Peter.

He obviously made a good case to the ECB, amply backed by a water company feasibility report, and it duly coughed up £10,000 to get the project under way. In the end, the project cost pretty much double that, but Peter is a past master when it comes to acquiring grant funding. Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, Landfill tax credit organisations, and Kent County Council have been among those to back the club's enterprising spirit.

"To date, we are the only club to have taken the grant up for rainwater harvesting," he adds.

"There were very few takers anyway. It's not apathy. I reckon it's because the green agenda is not to do directly with playing crickPeterRobinson Switchet. Also, most parts of the country haven't, in recent years, experienced drought. They might have applied for a grant for a pump to shift waterlogging! Some, in the north west, have actually gone this way. With the significant difference there is in rainfall east-west, north south, it's water management really that is the over all issue."

Once the funding was in place - at least a substantial part of it - Peter began to look for the necessary hardware. A villager is a night shift driver for Kent company, Marley, which specialises in rainwater piping and allied products. He suggested the club should approach them.

"This was certainly a good move," says Peter. "Marley offered me a thirty-seven percent discount on piping and underground storage, plus free access to their design engineer, who would help us with the layout. It was an offer we couldn't refuse, and we didn't."

PeterRobinson2The club did the installation themselves, and it was up and running in autumn 2010. Maximum underground capacity at any one time is 25,000 litres, and this gives them the ability to collect in the region of 100,000 litres of water in a year, reckons Peter.

This just about saw the club through the very dry conditions from April to June last year.

Gutters and downpipes connect to an underground storage facility, which has a coarse filter for collecting leaves and other debris. This just needs to be cleaned out every couple of months or so. Otherwise, there's virtually no maintenance. Water then passes into a cyclone filter, before passing into the tank, which is like a stack of large beer crates connected by baffles, into which particulates collect and coagulate into the bottom of the tank rather than in the irrigation nozzles.

As far as the irrigation system is concerned, this came from local supplier Chris Mardon of Greenkeeping Services. A Hunter XC entry-level residential controller is more than adequate for the table's six watering points. If necessary, it offers a three-programme range and up to four start times each.

The irrigation controller is in the groundsman's shed, and this operates six sprinkler rotors around the perimeter of the cricket table. Peter says that, thus far, he's stuck to manual operation but, one of these days, he'll bite the bullet and put it on auto. The controller is linked to a rain gauge on the groundsman's shed, which would always prevent the auto from coming on if it has actually rained, so over watering would be avoided.

"I was able to whack on about 1200 litres a time during the early season drought last year, until real rainfall came along. It really worked well for us," says Peter.

"At the moment, we've got the sprinklers set at 2-4 minutes and that seems to do the job, certainly looking at the germination success of our autumn re-seeding."
PeterRobinson Pointing"The real benefit to all of us involved in pitch preparation at the club, our groundsman Keith Stone in particular, is that there is no need for the hours and hours of deploying hoses and getting them back in. Now, you just press a button and, twelve minutes or so later, you've irrigated the whole square. Sometime soon we'll be brave enough to try the automatic mode, then we can stay at home and let the system work solo."

Controlling evaporation is, of course, still important, that is why the club sticks to evening watering. Since the water is stored underground, and at a constantly low temperature, algae and other harmful forces are not a threat. It's as near perfect rainwater as you can get. The reticulation circuit that has been set up covers the sixteen main pitches in the middle of the square, plus the outer junior pitches and one for the practice cages. In all, thirty playing strips get rainwater irrigated. This is routine stuff for golf courses, but cricket clubs, especially village ones, don't have the income to fund irrigation set-ups like this.

It's still early days, but the club thinks it has saved about £500 in the first full year of operation, and this has made a significant cost-base difference to its running.
"On economic grounds alone, you can't actually justify a project like this," says Peter.

"A £20,000 investment to save less than £1,000 a year? A twenty year payback? That's the issue we've got in cricket. The problem is we seem to be the only country that still uses drinking water to irrigate sportsfields and gardens. At £1.30 a cubic metre, no wonder our friends downunder think we're crazy."

The bigger picture, as far as this club's project is concerned, is that it has been feeding information into a Cranfield University study on water management, run by Dr Ian James and commissioned by the ECB.

Peter himself has really got caught up in the whole water conservation and efficiency thing, and is keen to make the club's rainwater harvesting do an even better job.
"We don't yet know what the optimum irrigation rate is for a clay-based cricket square and, if we could be more precise in our watering, we might improve the square still further," says Peter.

"Sprinkler systems, like the one we have here, are great technology, but it's sand-based golf turf where all the research stats are."

The Addington Village club is a pioneering force in rainwater harvesting, and other clubs, as well as cricket bodies, are starting to get interested in what it has done. Peter recently made a presentation, for instance, to members of The Surrey Groundsman's Association on his club's experience, and they went to Addington to see the set-up for themselves, as have a number of individual clubs.

"You don't have to convince people in the game any more; it's self-apparent," he says.

"The ECB deserve a pat on the back for creating the momentum and providing the money. The concept is certainly gathering pace, and it's very exciting."
Peter Robinson is more than his club's 'rain man'. He retired from BP back in 1996. Since then, as well as his involvement in the development of Addington Village Cricket Club, he chairs the Clubs' Committee of the Kent Cricket Board, and its Groundsman's Association, and is on its Coaching Committee. Since the Board became a company limited by guarantee, he has also been one of its directors.

He is very much an exponent of the ECB's 'one game, all in it together' strategy. The aim of this is to have a seamless connection between all arms of the game; clubs, coaching, pitches, you name it. Driving the cricket industry to think ahead is the mission statement.

"One game, where coaches, umpires, and groundsmen all sing from the same hymn sheet, that's where we are going," says Peter. "We are not there yet, but it's good to see we are moving in that direction. The ECB's club strategy is all about getting costs down. Rain harvesting and drought tolerant grass cultivars definitely play a part in this, but it takes money and somebody's got to put it up."

Kent Cricket Board has a conference on this whole theme at Canterbury's St Lawrence Ground later this year.

Peter and his club are confident they can ride any drought again this season. The tank is full and they're ready for it. At the very least, they know they can survive the first two months. Water company restrictions won't be affecting Addington Village Cricket Club.

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