"We currently directly employ more than sixty-five local people and indirectly support many more local suppliers and subcontractors. The replacement quarry will protect these jobs which, in today's economic climate, is as important as job creation"
Jon Boulton, Managing Director of Mansfield Sand
It goes without saying that coping with the weather is a prerequisite for any practising turfcare professional. Last year was one of the wettest on record, with many parts of the country receiving in excess of 900mm of rainfall, resulting in many lost fixtures due to waterlogged conditions.
Even the professional groundsmen struggled to keep fixtures on but, in most cases, were saved by the fact they have very free draining pitches. Clubs that had invested in sand ameliorated, sand reinforced and intensively drained pitches were just about able to cope.
Having a sand based pitch is now very much the norm in top professional sport, particularly football, where the last fifteen years has seen the methodology advance. There are now a range of reinforced rootzone options that include Fibresand, Fibrelastic, Fibre Reinforced Rootzones and Desso.
The common denominator in all these systems is sand, a very free draining medium that enables water to shift from the surface and through the profile very rapidly, generally specified to cope with between 25-40mm of rain per hour.
One company that has been instrumental in the development of these modern sand products is Mansfield Sand.
A recent conversation with their Sports Surface Manager, Mark Robinson (ex Derby County Head Groundsman), gave me the opportunity to visit their headquarters and Ratcher Hill Quarry facility.
The Mansfield Sand Company has been producing a range of sand products for the sports turf industry for many years. Operating from its long-established base in North Nottinghamshire, it has built up a solid, countrywide reputation as a specialist supplier of a comprehensive range of materials for the construction and maintenance of top class sports and landscape surfaces.
I was met by Mark and Sharon Morris, the company's Golf Sales Manager, who is responsible for all the golf related sand and compost products.
The aim of the tour was to catch up with the recent developments at the company following a successful planning application to Nottinghamshire County Council's Planning and Licensing Committee to open a brand new quarry to replace their Ratcher Hill Quarry, which is due to close in two years time.
The planning permission includes more than sixty conditions intended to control all aspects of the design, operation and restoration of the new site, which will be known as Two Oaks Quarry.
Jon Boulton, Managing Director of Mansfield Sand, said: "We are obviously delighted that the Planning and Licensing Committee has agreed to grant planning permission for our proposed new quarry. We currently directly employ more than sixty-five local people and indirectly support many more local suppliers and subcontractors. The replacement quarry will protect these jobs which, in today's economic climate, is as important as job creation."
Mansfield Sand say investment in the new quarry will include more efficient processing plants designed to reduce the company's carbon footprint. They have also agreed to a comprehensive scheme of screening bunds and tree and shrub planting, to complement the existing hedgerows and landscape, and to ensure the quarry remains a discreet operation.
Quarry restoration will progressively take place and will be designed to encourage and support a wide range of wildlife and biodiversity. Some of the existing land will be landscaped to provide a valuable heathland corridor connecting two important habitats - Thieves Wood and Coxmoor - whilst around half of the original area will be returned to agriculture.
"We will be setting up a liaison group at the earliest opportunity, so we can establish and develop regular contact with local residents and other interested individuals and organisations," continued Jon. "A visitor centre and nature trail for school children is also on our agenda, to help create a new era of education and working relationships between the quarry and our local community."
It will take two years for the company to transfer operations from Ratcher Hill to the new site, which is just a few miles down the road.
Jon explained that the company will be investing over seven million pounds in developing the new quarry. "The proposed operations will be very similar to those at Ratcher Hill, but with investment in new equipment, which will be purpose designed and built to help reduce our carbon footprint. At the same, time we will continue to improve waste and energy costs and improve, even further, our environmental management systems."
"A full Environmental Impact Assessment has been carried out by independent consultants, which demonstrates that the proposed site would have very little visual impact on the surrounding environment because it is already very well screened by existing hedgerows and woodland," explained Jon.
Mark was keen to show me the new site, calling in on the way to the Ratcher Hill facility.
"We expect the new quarry will be up and running within two years, taking over from Ratcher Hill, which is earmarked for closure in 2015 after fifty years of quarrying."
"Both the existing and new site will be working to ISO9001:2008 standard," said Mark.
Having donned the relevant PPE, Mark and I first met with Andrew Ward, the company's Technical Manager, who has worked for them for twenty-two years and is responsible for ensuring every product leaving and coming onto the site is tested to meet their tough screening policies and testing criteria.
"Hundreds of sand and soil samples are tested on a monthly basis," explained Andrew. "We test for Particle Size Distribution (PSD), soil pH and organic matter (OM) content, with the aim of producing consistent materials for both the sports turf and landscaping industry. Every tonne of sand has to be compatible and meet all the tolerances required for a sports sand specification."
Andrew also oversees the research development of new materials, working closely with Dr Vic Armond, who was responsible for developing the original Fibresand product.
"One of my roles," interjects Mark, "is to collect soil and sand samples from customers for testing by Andrew. For example, over time, Fibresand pitches can lose a certain amount of fibre due to simple wear and tear. It's important to keep the top 100mm topped up with the correct amount of fibres, so Andrew is able to quantify how much new fibre content needs to be added during renovations to bring back the profile to recommended levels."
"Even in the supply of straight sands for topdressing of pitches, it is important that the products we sell are tested," said Andrew. "We will take numerous samples of the sands being quarried and, at various times of the production process, ensure they meet our strong testing criteria.
Our popular Moist Mansil sands - MM35, MM45 and MM55 - are amongst the most popular in use in the UK, so it is vitally important that we maintain and provide a consistent quality controlled product."
"The testing begins by drying moist sand, after which a specified weight of the material being tested is added to a glass flask and topped up with water and shaken to disperse the fine particles. The water is then siphoned off and the process repeated several times to evaluate the percentage of clay and silts lost. This is calculated by the difference in weight of the original dry sample and the amount of material left after testing," explained Andrew. "The remaining material is then passed through a nest of sieves to determine the particle size distribution" explained Andrew.
"The PSD tests are carried out several times during the production of a predetermined sand product to ensure it meets our high standards."
Our next port of call was to meet the lads on the weighbridge - transport coordinator, Will Fox and Dale Westwood. Dale has been with the company for over twenty years and, together, they are responsible for ensuring that all lorries leaving the site are loaded with the correct materials, that they comply to road transport regulations and are able to meet the timescales and deadlines required by the customer.
Lorries are weighed both coming onto and going off the site, ensuring they are correctly loaded. It's a long day, starting at 6.00am and finishing at 5.00pm with, on average, 100 lorries a day passing over the weighbridge.
With constant detail to quality, the weighbridge is fitted with an overhead CCTV camera in order to view inside the trailers, making sure they are clean enough before any material is loaded; dirty bodies are not allowed here! As well as the lorries, both Dale and Will must keep an eye on the weather and road traffic bulletins.
My next appointment was to meet one of the directors, Richard Abraham, who followed his father David into the company. His father has been involved with Mansfield Sand for over thirty years, whilst Richard has been in charge of all quarry operations for the last three years. Also on site we met Production Supervisor, Darren Lack, who oversees the day to day operations on the sports sand plant.
"Extracting large amounts of silica sand requires a huge investment in machinery and technology," explained Richard. "We have two Caterpillar self eleavting scrapers, each worth over £250,000, one large bulldozer used for ripping sandstone, four loading shovels and a number of lorries to transport sand around the quarry. The diesel bill alone runs into many thousands of pounds a month. Then there is the washing, drying and bagging plants that are in continual use. Over one mile of conveyer belts are in place to transport sand to the various processing plants alone."
"Every grain of sand is used in one way or another. Basically, all the excavated sand goes through several processes before it is finally bagged or loaded onto a lorry to be dispatched to the end user."
"The Caterpillar scrapers collect about eighteen tonnes of the raw sand a time, and then transport it to a designated forty tonne ground hopper which feeds the conveyor belts that distribute the sand to the specialist hydro classification washing plant. This complex washing process is designed to produce the specific grades of sand as required and can cope with as much as 150 tonnes per hour. Capital investment for this type of washing plant alone is well over one million pounds."
"The washed sand can then be either delivered to the customer moist, fed into the sand drying plant or sent to the Sports Sands plant to be blended with organics and fibres as required by the customer. They have the ability to mix several different ratios of rootzone/compost products - 80/20, 70/30, 60/40 and 50/50. and even sterilise sand/organic blends through another specialist rotary drier specifically designed for the purpose."
In recent years, the company has also invested heavily in their sand bagging plant, which has the ability to bag products in various size bags.
Richard also explained the work they will be undertaking to get the new quarry up and running, by gradually dismantling certain areas of the production plant and moving it to the new quarry, whilst taking an opportunity to buy new equipment as required.
The attention to detail, cleanliness of the site and the importance put on inspections and quality control goes part way to explaining why something as 'simple' as sand appears to be costly. Add in the considerable cost of the specialist processing plants, transporting these bulk materials, whether they are in bags or loose loads, to all parts of the UK, plus the fluctuating cost of diesel and ever changing regulations, and it is no wonder we have to pay between £25-100 per tonne for specialist materials.
I certainly have a better understanding of how this type of product is brought to market following my visit.
Did you know that Mansfield Sand...
• Has been quarrying sand in Mansfield for nearly 200 years
• Won a Gold Medal at the Great Exhibition in 1851, held at Crystal Palace, for its Mansfield Red Moulding Sand
• Has been manufacturing bricks on its site at Sandhurst Avenue for over ninety years
• Has recently invested £9m in a new state-of-the-art brick production facility on Crown Farm Way, Mansfield. The plant is the most modern and technically advanced in Europe
• Supplies over 400 golf courses across the UK with rootzone materials, topdressing and bunker sand
• Supplied the surface for the first all-weather racing track at Southwell in 1989
• Supplies 20 Premiership clubs, 24 Championship clubs and 120 other football league clubs with materials for their pitches
• Is one of the largest users of recycled compost in the country
• Fill over 1.5 million bags each year with sand