A few miles from the urban hustle and bustle of Poole, and on the outskirts of the market town of Wimborne Minster, lies the village of Canford Magna. It is here that Canford School sits in 250 acres of conservation land on the banks of the River Stour.
On a lovely spring day in mid March, I have come to visit Kerry Mapp, Head of Grounds and Gardens at the prestigious school. Kerry had contacted Pitchcare to see if we would be interested in a story about three of his team who have clocked up eighty-four years of service between them and, as the local boy, I was tasked with the job.
I use the word 'task' lightly as, driving through the school grounds, it becomes immediately clear that here are some stunning facilities and formal gardens. But, there is so much more, as I am about to discover.
The main school house sits imposingly overlooking the main rugby pitch and, a few hundred yards away, AFC Bournemouth are putting their players through their paces on a dedicated pitch used by them for training.
The house was originally the home of Lord and Lady Wimborne and, as well as this estate, the family owned, at one time, a further 22,000 acres of Dorset, including Sandbanks. Evidence of a private avenue, lined with massive oaks, can still be seen, and this was used by the family on their outings to the coast so that they would be 'out of view' of the general public!
With no successor, Lord Wimborne sold off much of the land, and the school was established in 1923 when the house and immediate grounds were purchased as part of that sale.
In a relatively short time Canford now sits proudly in the top co-educational public schools in the country, a fact that is not lost on Kerry or, indeed, the Headmaster, who told him when he joined that 'adequate is not good enough'.
I meet Kerry in the mess room, where most of his thirteen staff are enjoying a mid-morning break. As time is called, the majority slip away to continue their duties, and I am left to talk with Kerry and his four deputies.
Kerry came to the school two and half years ago. Originally from an agricultural background, Kerry had previously worked at Lord Wandsworth Agricultural College in Odiham, Hampshire where, for fifteen years, he managed a 1,200 acre estate, the last three also including the supervision of the grounds team.
"It was during this period that I really got the bug to work in grounds maintenance," confesses Kerry. "So, I applied for the heads job here and, because of my management skills - at least I think that was the reason - I got offered the position. Much of my work revolves around the management of people, machinery, liaising with the school Bursar, setting budgets and so on. In truth, I have such a good team here that I rarely get the chance to get my hands dirty anymore."
It is obvious, from the banter in the mess room, that Kerry has slotted in well to his role and is highly respected by his deputies.
Andy Beale is the first of the team I talk to. Andy is Arboretum Supervisor, responsible for over 3,000 trees, some very rare, including a 1,000 year old sweet chestnut that was listed in the Domesday book and, more recently, the Guinness Book of Records - and all with preservation orders on them.
Andy studied at Kingston Maurward College in Dorchester, before working at East Dorset District Council for six years. He has been at Canford for seven years, where he is assisted by Chris Bartlett.
Andy is responsible for ensuring that all trees meet health and safety requirements, and that is no small task in itself. In addition, he is also responsible for the river bank and its trees, keeping an eye out for invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed, as well as managing the fishing rights.
Bark chip and mulch is prepared for the grounds and garden teams to use, and Andy also organises a log scheme for the school staff living on site.
The woods and trees are such an integral part of the site that space, even on a 250 acre site, is limited for further development. The preservation orders on all trees means that any felling has to be approved by the local council and that, not surprisingly, is a rarity, with permission only granted when a tree becomes a danger to pupils and visitors or is diseased.
The arboretum contains many notable species, including one of the largest girthed Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus ailtissma), as featured in the Forestry Commission's Champion Trees book. There are also two National Collections, awarded to the school by the NCCPG (National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens). These collections are Katsura trees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), noted for their stunning autumn colour and the smell of burnt sugar as their leaves fall in autumn, and Walnuts (Juglans) which are known for their edible nuts and quality timber. The collections are spread throughout the arboretum.
There is also a beautiful specimen of the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). This is a very special species, since it was first discovered in China in 1941; prior to this it was only known through fossil records.
The yearly planting programme aims to provide replacements for all specimen trees, to increase the diversity of tree species and to add to the NCCPG collections.
Such is the diversity of trees, Andy organises guided walks (tree tours) for school staff and pupils, local amateur and professional interest groups - around six a year - and these have proved very popular.
He is also charged with maintaining the Tree Book, which lists every species in the arboretum.
A large area of additional woodland separates the playing fields from the nine hole golf course, and was planted at two separate times. The younger, consisting of larch, beech, walnut and Norway maple, was planted in 1963. This part of the plantation is used by various school groups for activities, and for a small amount of timber extraction. The older section at the southern end, called Weasely Wood, is being thinned out to allow a native mixture of trees and plants to flourish and to encourage a wider diversity of wildlife.
Looking after the golf course is Head Greenkeeper, Ray Cooper, along with one full time assistant, Leigh Dickson, and Ian Mills, who works three days tending the course and two working on the sports pitches.
Ray has been at the school for close on thirty-five years and is due to retire in 2013 - that's if the school let him! He has been an integral part of the success of the golf course since the layout was put down on paper by a local golf professional in the late 1970s.
Ray was responsible for modelling the land, creating bunkers, mounds and undulations, along with greens, tees and fairways. The par 68, 5787 yard course opened in 1980 and is a fantastic facility for the pupils and staff, along with a buoyant membership of around 350.
Different tees for the front and back nine create a fairly challenging course.
Kerry interjects; "Ray is very modest about his achievements. Basically, he created the whole course out of cow paddock!"
Jim Scammell is Deputy Head Groundsman, and he has worked at Canford for twenty-nine years, the first six in the kitchens. "I originally wanted to be a chef," he says, "but the lure of working outdoors soon won me over." He has an NVQ3 in Sports Turf Management and has attended various industry training courses over the years to extend his knowledge.
One of the delights of his job is AFC Bournemouth using his facilities for training. As a passionate supporter, he has helped out on match days at the Dean Court stadium since 1997, and currently assists Head Groundsman, James Lathwell, who was featured in the previous edition of this magazine.
Bournemouth has a pitch reserved solely for its use, and Jim tries to ensure that it mirrors the stadium pitch as closely as possible. However, its proximity to the woodland does mean that one edge occasionally suffers from being 'a bit damp', so the players do sometimes encroach on to the adjoining school pitch. Jim is assisted by Rory Harrington, Arran Grant and Aaron Parsonage.
The final member of the supervisory team is Senior Gardener, Tim Handyside, another former student of Kingston Maurward College. With twenty years service at Canford, Tim honed his horticultural skills working for Bournemouth Council for seven years.
He, and his team of John Ladbrook, Shaun Dixon and Karl Whiteley, are responsible for the extensive formal gardens and ornamental lawns around the campus, along with tending the Round Garden.
Tim also designs all new beds, being responsible for the choice of species planted. All plants are sourced from local nursery, Marchants.
With the formalities conducted, it is time for lunch before a tour of the grounds. Kerry takes me to the 'canteen', a splendid baronial hall, c1600, with a stunning stained glass window, vaulted ceiling, wood panelling, stone floors and two enormous chandeliers. This is the first of many times, during the afternoon, that Kerry will say "not a bad place to work, is it?"
Over lunch we discuss the machinery Kerry and his team use. The majority of equipment is John Deere, purchased from and maintained by New Forest Farm Machinery. Toro machinery is also used on the golf course and the gardens, supplied by Clarks Turf Machinery of Wellow. C&O Tractors of Blandford supplied their New Holland TCE40 tractor.
The majority of the arboreal equipment is Stihl, purchased from Longham Garden Machinery.
Each of the dealerships are responsible for servicing their own franchises but all cylinder grinding is undertaken by Clarks, on a yearly basis.
Day to day set-up and maintenance is the responsibility of the team.
Other machinery includes a Honda HRB rotary mower for verges and first cut of cricket tables, a Dennis Premier for cricket squares, a Lloyds Paladin and Baroness LM22 for cricket wickets, three Tornado TM300 blowers - "with 3,000 trees, they are extensively used in the autumn," says Kerry - a Trilo SG200 vacuum sweeper and a trusty autoroller.
The ride-on mowers are replaced after 4,000 hours, and the tractors after 5,000.
Kerry explains that the 250 acres are made up of thirty-five acres of grass pitches, two artificial pitches, one sand based and one a strange mix of water irrigation and a light sand dressing; "but not a water based pitch." Kerry points out. "I've not come across anything like it before. No one knows why it was built like that, but it plays perfectly well!"
The golf course occupies a further thirty-five acres and the footprint of the school gardens, including buildings, another forty acres. The remainder is woodland.
During the Summer term, five cricket squares come into play, two of which are on winter sports pitches. "That makes for some rather interesting and 'urgent' pre-season work," says Kerry.
The two artificial pitches are converted to twelve tennis courts on each to supplement the six asphalt courts on site. "Tennis is becoming increasingly popular and there is now a demand to play floodlit tennis." says Kerry. "We have temporary floodlights in place on some of the asphalt courts, and planning permission is currently being secured to put permanent floodlights on the second artificial pitch which, incidentally, is right next door to my home. Still, that might mean we'll save on our electricity bills!"
A 400 metre grass athletics track, along with all field event stations, completes the summer term requirements.
The Christmas term sees the provision of seven rugby pitches and two football pitches, with girls hockey being played on the artificials.
In the Easter term, two lacrosse and two grass hockey pitches are provided, along with four football pitches. Three rugby pitches remain, to cover for sevens and tournaments, although no school rugby fixtures are played at this time.
On 250 acres of conservation land, what ecological responsibilities are placed on the team? "We keep fertiliser and chemical applications to an absolute minimum," says Kerry. "We apply a 16:0:8 to the cricket wickets and golf greens on a six week cycle, but that's about it. We get a soil analysis carried out on the pitches and outfields and, based on the results, might put down some phosphate and potash. We did have them limed last year to get the pH up from 5.5 to 6.5."
As part of our whistle stop tour of the grounds, Kerry takes me to the rowing club, where the fairly straight river at this point offers a 1,000 metre stretch of perfect upstream rowing.
"I wanted to show you this to give you a flavour of part of Andy's job," says Kerry. "As well as looking after all the trees you can see along the bank, the occurrence of floods has increased dramatically over recent years. This has resulted in remedial work being required on the banks. Andy and the team will undertake the mowing and contractors will carry out the revetment."
So, is he a believer in climate change? "I won't say I'm a believer. There is evidence for and against, depending on who you listen to. But, the weather patterns are definitely changing. The days of putting the mowers away at the end of October and getting them out again at the end of March have gone. We mow eleven months of the year now."
As the tour continues, the team can be seen diligently going about their chores - gardeners gardening and groundsmen groundsmening! Kerry stops to talk to them all, finding out how their day is going.
Our final stop is the golf course. The car park is full and there is a queue on the first tee, a testament to the quality of the course and the work of Ray and his team... "but don't photograph the greens" suggests Kerry. "We have just put some iron down, and they look a bit black!"
As we head back to the mess room, we pass daffodil laden verges, the river Stour in all its glory, the fabulous stone buildings and manicured lawns. "Not a bad place to work, is it?" says Kerry.
What's in the shed?
John Deere 4320 tractor
John Deere 2520 tractor
John Deere 2653 triple mowers x 2
John Deere 1445 outfront mower
Baroness LM22 wicket mower
Toro 3250 greens mower
Toro 3000 mower
John Deere 4300 tractor
John Deere 2520 tractor
John Deere 7700 fairway mower
Club car golf buggies x 2
Toro 2000D triple mower
John Deere 3320 and loader
New Holland TCE40 tractor
Various Stihl chainsaws
SISIS Zig Zag brushes x 2
Tornado TM300 blowers x 3
Trilo SG200 Sweeper/Vac
Honda HRB425 rotary mower
Long Equip 1502 Versatile scarifier
Long Equip Flexispread
Turfworks cassette system
High Speed Group ClearWater washdown/recycling system installed five years ago to comply with current legislation.