Fitness gained in the Royal Marines proved invaluable for bunker raking according to Adam Witchell during his introduction to the industry at Aberdovey Golf Club. As he tells Peter Britton, things have moved on apace since those early days and he has now become an award winning groundsman at one of the most up to date community sports facilities in the UK
Thirty-two year old Adam John Witchell is the Head Groundsman at the Beversbrook Sports Facility in Calne, Wiltshire, a position he has held for the past two years, and one, he says, has been the pinnacle of his career thus far.
After a brief spell in the Royal Marines he worked as greenkeeper cover at Aberdovey Golf Club in the coastal south region of Snowdonia National Park. He comments that his military fitness proved invaluable for bunker raking! When a permanent position became available he was offered the job.
It was whilst here that Adam completed his NVQ Level 2 in Horticulture and Amenity Sports Turf, PA1 and PA6 in spraying, plus in-house courses on drainage, irrigation, mowers and cylinder units with Toro Lely. He has since achieved NVQ Level 3, PA2 and is currently studying FdSc Sports Turf at Myerscough College.
He cites Aberdovey's head greenkeeper, Meurig Lumley and, more recently, Lee Jackson, head groundsman at Manchester City as being inspirational. "Meurig was always encouraging me to undertake industry training," he confesses, "and I would love to be able to present my football pitches with the patterns that Lee uses, but time simply wouldn't allow, given our staffing levels."
Facility Manager, Kevin Whitehorn oversees all day to day duties, with Adam looking after the grounds assisted by James Down. Caretaker, Martin Butler, and Football Development Officer, Jamie Lloyd-Davies, complete the team at the council run facility.
All staff are compliant with current legislation. "We are all First Aid at Work and defibrillator trained. We had a Health & Safety officer visit us recently and she was very impressed with all our H&S files, as well as our 'groundsman training' file, which Lantra are also keen to see. In fact, she even suggested that we should enter for a national Health & Safety award!"
"The Council and Town Clerk are very keen to back and encourage all staff to further their education and training. We are also considering taking on an apprentice, which will be an invaluable extra pair of hands and, with our training record, should be a success."
"Soil analysis is provided by visiting reps, says Adam, "but my FdSc Sports Turf should give me the knowledge to understand what is going on myself. I use these to ascertain what fertilisers I use, at what rate and to see what is under the surface. So, for example, if I have a high amount of nitrogen I won't then put a fertiliser down which is high in nitrate."
"I am responsible for the grounds maintenance budget," continues Adam. "Beversbrook is part of Calne Town Council, so I am governed by the councillors, but have been backed by the Town Clerk, as well as the facility manager, and my changes and ideas have been implemented and, fortunately, come to fruition. We do operate on a small budget, so I do the vehicle servicing and maintenance in-house and only outsource cylinder grinding."
The site totals ninety-six acres and includes four adult football pitches, four youth football pitches, two 9v9 pitches, two 'Mini Soccer' pitches, one goalkeeping area, cricket square and outfield, an artificial cricket wicket and a MUGA - Multi Usage Games Area - for basketball and football. The Community Hall includes a pavilion, bar, meeting room, kitchen, four officials rooms and eight changing rooms. There is also an archery range and inflatable football pitch. There are plans to install a 3G artificial pitch; "sooner, rather than later," hopes Adam.
He describes the soil as Kummeridge "very heavy" clay. "Subsequently, I do have a busy aeration programme which consists of verti-draining at different depths from spring through to autumn, plus slitting in autumn and 'when we can' through the winter. I have just persuaded the council to invest in an Imants Shockwave, so we will also be putting that into the programme."
"We have five metre drains spaced on all of our pitches and I have, this year, got all the ditches deepened and flowing better to help with our drainage. I am also due to go on an excavator course so that, next year, I can (in-house) put more drainage around the site on the wetter areas around the pitches."
I ask if the facility suffers from any regular natural occurrences, such as flooding, high winds, excessive snowfall and frosts? "All of the above over the past couple of years," is Adam's reply. "As mentioned, the aeration work and ditch deepening has helped alleviate the flooding issues, but the site is fairly exposed, so we do get high winds. We have tree lines and hedges which act as wind breaks, and we let these grow upwards, but trim back the sides."
"When it snows, we hand shovel it off to the side of the pitches. We are looking into covers, but cost and manpower is a problem. When frosts start to thaw we remove the water with dragmats and brushes. The upside is that, being a pretty open site, the wind does help dry the surface."
Being predominantly a community football facility means that Adam is kept busy throughout the year. Outside of the summer, the pitches are kept at 25-35mm, but are cut at 35-50mm in May, June, July and early August at the height of the growing season. The pitches are marked out in August and overmarked as required throughout the season. "Presentation is important," Adam stresses. "Straight lines are a must at all times, whether linemarking or cutting."
All cutting is undertaken using a Jacobsen 305 fairway mower with weed control carried out using a Martin Lishman 6 metre boom sprayer attached to a Kubota RTV. An Amazone scarifier is hired in June.
"I operate an 'all hands to the pump' approach," says Adam, "but, as there's only two of us, it's only ever two pair of hands! Apart from myself doing the spraying, all other jobs are shared between James and myself."
"End of season renovations consist of vertidraining, cutting the pitches lower than 25mm, scarifying and overseeding with Johnsons Premier Pitch or J Rescue. Then we apply a sand topdressing and dragmat to work it in. Finally, weather dependent, we irrigate. I will then apply an application of seaweed."
To accommodate the high number of cricket fixtures, Calne Cricket Club added a top of the range artificial wicket and three practice nets for club training. "The artificial was built between three pitches," explains Adam, "so time is limited for renovations on the affected pitches. I also keep one pitch available throughout the summer for teams to continue their training and development on."
"I am looking into the possibility of building another outfield, on an area of spare land, so that I can move the artificial wicket. We would have to do this work in-house to save on costs, so available time will, again, be a factor."
"At the start of the year, I am given a budget to work with and end of season renovations, plus everything else, has to come out of it."
"Whilst the cricket is going on, and during the football close season, the goals will be looked at; nets taken off, fittings checked, scrubbed and repainted, and new nets put on."
"During this period, I also use turf tonics, seaweed and liquid and soluble fertilisers. I am also trialing wetting agents and a mix of chemicals which will help aid water penetration through the heavy clay soils. It has been used on racecourses and golf fairways with some success and, so far, is looking very promising."
Having completed the building of Phase 2 - an additional 3.5 hectares - Swindon Town FC were considering using the facilities as their training site.
Talking of Swindon Town, Adam remembers reading a very early Pitchcare magazine -"shows how long I have been reading it" - when he was just a few years into his greenkeeping career. "I saw an article on Marcus Cassidy joining the club as Head Groundsman and, as I was born in Swindon and follow them, I remember thinking 'I hope, one day, that I'll be able to work with him'. Now, I class him as one of my friends and work alongside him on match days at the County Ground. I think he is one of the best groundsmen in the industry. His pitch is always immaculate and has been for years; he has given me a great insight into the job, along with some very sound advice."
Adam explains that the wildlife and ecology of the site is an important part of his remit - although not the moles! Fortunately, they are the only pests the site currently suffers from and are easily kept under control using tunnel traps and techniques he learned from his time at Aberdovey Golf Club.
"The local flora and fauna is very important; we need to help the bee population and, to that end, we will be planting wildflower areas. I am working on an environmental policy this year, with input from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and English Heritage."
"We recycle all of the rainwater that drains through our pitches, it goes into a pond and the irrigation takes that water and puts back onto our pitches. I also store rainwater to water our bedding plants."
Adam is clearly on top of his game, so much so that he won the White Horse Contractors IOG Grassroots Sports Ground of the Year; an award he is immensely proud of. "We are fortunate to work in the best industry and I believe we are moving in the right direction," he concludes.
What's in the shed?
Jacobsen 305 fairway mower
John Deere 4520 compact tractor
Imants Shockwave 155 (soon)
Martin Lishman 6 metre boom sprayer
Blec Dimple seeder
Teagle totary tractor fitted mower
Honda Izy Pedestrian Mower
Accu Pro 2000
Spray jet linemarker
Amazone E+S sand and fertiliser spreader (soon)
6 metre drag mat
Stihl Hedge trimmer
In conjunction with the Facility Manager, Adam has, this year, implemented a five year machinery replacement plan.
Quotes are obtained from different dealers and Adam goes with the best price.