After a couple of years outside the sports turf industry, Jonathan Buddington, the former groundsman of Ashbrooke in Sunderland and Head Groundsman of Hymers College in Hull, finds himself as the sole manager of surfaces at Wearmouth Colliery Welfare Ground at Carley Hill, Sunderland.
The parkland ground, as with many colliery sports venues, still has an air of beauty, with many hundreds of deciduous and evergreen trees enclosing the playing areas, wonderful bird and wildlife. A haven of peace within bustling, residential, Sunderland.
Back in the mists of time it was a regular venue for Durham County cricket games; where several thousand spectators would turn up to view their local heroes, who were generally shipyard or steelworks owners and gentlemen cricketers of the time.
But UK industry has changed dramatically. In years past, welfare grounds were the envy of private sports clubs everywhere. Labour was easily available with a quick call, by the groundsman, to the Pit or Shipyard Managers office!
The ground consists of a large cricket square with 16 strips, plus junior pitches on the outfield edges and an area currently being gradually transformed for net practice. A soccer pitch on the outfield, and a bowling green on the far perimeter beyond the outfield, makes ground management a heavily time consuming proposition, especially for one qualified groundsman and a shoestring budget!
Broad leaved weeds on the soccer side of the outfield, and moss infestation on the rest of the outfield, clearly showed that a management system needed to be put in place urgently when Jonathan began work in the post just over a year ago.
Aeration had obviously been an irregular occurrence during the previous few years. The broad-leaved weeds, plantago major the main culprit, were evidence of a lack of overseeding and general housekeeping on the soccer pitch.
Major overseeding of the pitch was carried out last Easter and the proof of success has been the high number of games played. Over 30 matches so far and no sign of wear. Jonathan has a rotary mid deck tractor to cut the pitch and remove leaf fall, this is in conjunction with a pre match pass by a 36in ride on cylinder mower to consolidate.
The bowling green, with broad leaved deciduous trees surrounding three sides, posed a huge problem with lack of natural sunlight and stagnant air circulation. This caused a high moss content and regular fusarium outbreaks within the sward. Management last season included the use of both powered scarifiers and hand raking with a lawnsman to promote air circulation across the soil surface. Reducing the sward density improves the grass health. On a monthly cycle, Jonathan has been aerating the green with a Groundsman solid tiner.
The cricket square has, historically, been on the slow side; not inconsistent, just not coming onto the bat.
With the training and experience Jonathan has gained, there is every reason for optimism that the surface will continue to improve as they have over the last year. "The cricket guys still expect miracles, but I remind them that Rome wasn't built in a day" said Jonathan.
A consistent texture and structure through the top 4 to 6 inches is what Jonathan is striving for on the match pitches, with a dense grass cover over the winter period. There are no covers at the ground, so a medium clay loam is Jonathan's choice, for obvious reasons.
Also, reducing bare areas has been a priority during the playing season as, without sheeting of any form, wet areas, which also lack grass, are a concern for player safety.
To reduce the high thatch content within the square Jonathan has taken out over 250 barrows of debris during end of season renovation. "You could almost hear the grass sigh with relief after being set free from strangulation" said Jonathan The programme will also include verti cutting throughout the growing season. As a result of clearing such an amount of debris, the renovated area is now growing as if there were no tomorrow!
There is no shortage of volunteers who give willingly of their time, which will no doubt help Jonathan continue his uphill task of improving this once immaculate ground.