Glasgow Green is the UK's oldest public park. Situated on the east side of the city centre, it is a mecca for locals and tourists, attracting millions of visitors every year. One of the most popular events held in the park is the annual World Pipe Band Championships which provides an additional challenge for the groundcare team; one they are up to!
The City of Glasgow got its name from the Gaelic language and translates back to "Dear Green Place" and, with over ninety parks within its boundaries, it is easy to understand why it is still affectionately known this way today.
Groundcare operatives at Glasgow City Council Land and Environmental Services have more than just golf courses and football pitches to look after within the city. Working out of the Glasgow Green depot, these include thirty-one bowling greens, plus cricket and rugby pitches, as well as six golf courses and fifty-five football pitches. They are also responsible for the UK's oldest public park - 'Glasgow Green' - from where the depot gets its name.
This vast city park, just at the eastern point of the city centre, helps Glasgow continue to live up to its 'Dear Green Place' moniker. It is recorded in the city's history that the very first golf course was originally on the site of Glasgow Green.
The area was gifted to the people of Glasgow in 1450 by King James II when he granted the land to Bishop William Turnbull. It features as a popular venue for many events, with one of the highlights of the year being the World Pipe Band Championships, which welcomes 220 bands from fifteen different countries, including Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Canada, England, USA, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Switzerland, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Belgium, the Netherlands and, of course, Scotland. It attracts an audience of 40,000 spectators over the two days. The championships have had an association with the city for over seventy years and 2016 was the thirtieth consecutive year 'the Worlds' had been hosted by Glasgow. The event is also broadcast live online, with recorded highlights shown on BBC television.
This year alone, Glasgow Green has hosted the Tour of Britain, BBC Proms in the Park, the Great Scottish Run and the annual Glasgow Fireworks spectacular, along with many other concerts and community events.
The Glasgow Green events space is split into seven arenas where the bands battle it out. The main focus is on the Grade 1 Arena and this has to look its best for this wonderful spectacle, which also includes Highland Games and Highland Dance Championships.
One consideration is to make sure the Lime trees don't catch on the pipers as they march from the tuning areas in to the main arenas!
It is very impressive how the organisers, Glasgow Life, manage to park so many buses and coaches within Glasgow Green and make sure that everything runs to schedule. It is a very well-oiled machine and they really do take care to ensure that the grass areas are not damaged by contractors or traders.
For the Land and Environmental Services (LES) team, the challenge is to keep the park in good condition for everyday public use, whilst ensuring that it looks its absolute best for the high profile events. They must be doing something right because the park has been awarded Green Flag status for the high standard achieved for a maintained public space.
The Green, as it is known locally, has the largest terracotta fountain in the world, with Queen Victoria adorning the top spot, and is also home to the first ever monument dedicated to Lord Nelson. The River Clyde runs alongside, adding an additional attraction for visitors to the park.
The fifty-five hectare site encompasses everything for native Glaswegians as well as the millions from around the world who visit the area every year to take in the historical elements or visit the wonderful museum, operated by Glasgow Life, in the People's Palace.
A complete refurbishment of the park began in 1999 and was completed in 2007. During this refurbishment, much attention was given to making the park suitable for large scale events, whilst also remaining environmentally sensitive to wildlife conservation.
The refurbishment took large parts of the park back to how it looked in the 1800s, but also incorporated areas that would be able to take high volumes of foot traffic and infrastructure that comes with large scale events.
Almost fifty percent of Glasgow Green can be given over to large scale public events capable of hosting in excess of 40,000 people, therefore the maintenance required has to be of a high standard and also fit in around the numerous events.
The team work on repairs immediately after an event and, with 100% grass cover maintained throughout, put this down to the high quality of the renewal construction; the plots were designed in such a way to make access easy with good load bearing.
The council employs a supervisory team of James Niblock, Kevin Quinn and 'resident historian', Charlie Keane. Together with Events Officer, Thomas McGarry, they liaises with all groups who want to make use of the park or host an event. This can be anything from the local university wanting to host weekly frisbee training sessions to full on concerts. By engaging with the groups, it ensures the groundstaff can carry out their maintenance at the right time. A lot of the public events are organised and managed by Glasgow Life, so this does make scheduling their events fairly straightforward.
Glasgow played host to the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and Glasgow Green was used as a festival site, allowing close to 500,000 people to make use of the park. The extent of compaction after the games took its toll on the grass surfaces which required two hectares of overseeding and turfing to make sure it was ready for the World Pipe Band Championships taking place twelve days after the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. From the time the site was handed back by the games team, it only allowed four days to repair damaged areas of turf at the Grade 1 arena - an area totalling 2,500m - and returf in time for the competition.
Prior to the Commonwealth Games, Glasgow Green had also hosted the BBC Big Weekend, which attracted 25,000 revellers each day over the May Bank Holiday weekend; another test for the groundstaff to ensure the site retained full grass cover.
The team look to apply 60-70 kilograms of N per year, in controlled release form, to allow a steady, even growth over the growing months and also to aid recovery in areas that require a quick repair following events. It is also important there is not too much growth as it can be difficult to work around stage construction whilst an event is being built or derigged. However, it remains important to strike the correct balance between excessive growth and to withstand long periods of foot traffic.
As mentioned previously, compaction is one of the biggest problems associated with large scale events, so regular verti-draining and solid tining is required to keep the well-designed event plots in continued good condition. It is impressive how these plots recover from such high amounts of traffic.
The dedicated team that work throughout the city looking after all the fine turf and sports areas can be called upon to add their expertise, when required. Around twenty personnel will work a four on, four off shift pattern whilst continuing to look after the various golf courses, football pitches and bowling greens in the city at the same time.
The three supervisors that look after these areas have the maintenance down to a fine art. This year, the main event day for the Worlds coincided with the first day of the football season, so it was 'a little busy' around the Glasgow Green leading up to the World Pipe Band Championships. However, the excellent planning by the supervisors helped everything run smoothly and cope with whatever eventuality came their way.
This year LES Operative, Stuart Muir, took the lead on preparing the Grade 1 Arena to look its best. Stuart's 'day job' is to maintain many of the bowling greens across the city.
The city has invested in new mowing equipment during 2016. LES has a team who look at what machinery is required and keep everyone updated with what is available. They create very detailed specifications and look at every aspect of purchasing to ensure the correct equipment is procured. This has resulted in new mowers from John Deere, Jacobsen and Toro, all of which have been purchased specifically for different areas, and they have already made a huge difference to how each area is managed.
Looking ahead to 2017, LES Works Controller, Paul Brannan, says that he has been following, with interest, the articles in Pitchcare from Green Flag judge Bernhard Sheridan with regard to reduced mowing. Paul says that, whilst this will not necessarily work on the main event areas, the design style of Glasgow Green allows for 'Managed for Wildlife' areas to sit nicely within the area of Glasgow Green and Bernard's option could work well here. When large scale events come to the park, these areas are protected and unaffected.
Glasgow is focusing on its 'Pollinator Strategy' and, already, the team have identified areas within Glasgow Green that will see more reduced mowing frequency to assist with increasing pollinators. The Conservation Team and Countryside Rangers are constantly monitoring these areas, along with the river bank.
The annual fireworks in Glasgow display on 5th November - with 50,000 people in attendance - brings the Glasgow Green event season to a close and allows the LES Operations team to start aerating and topdressing the event plots in time for all the events that will come to Glasgow in 2017.
Information provided by Paul Brannan, Works Controller, LES Parks, Glasgow City Council