0 Membership, Disease, Wages and readers letters

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Membership, disease, wages and readers letters

Membership-We have moved into our twelth week since launching Pitchcare and have seen our 500th member join the website. It is particularly encouraging to see members joining up from all over the world, coming to share their experiences, knowledge and expertise. With such a diverse range of soil mediums and climates, grounds maintenance techniques can vary greatly and there is much that can be learnt about growth, wear and tolerance under extreme conditions. I for one am sure, that there is huge mileage, sharing information and advice with fellow Groundsmen across the world.

The website offers the opportunity for members to be expressive, using either the message boards or the chat rooms. We have now held our first two chat forums where a number of subjects were discussed, some members have told me that the times of these forums were difficult for them to make. Obviously the more the merrier! so while the time and date for the next forum will be posted on the home page shortly, we would welcome your views regarding suitable times and days so that we can accommodate more members.

Disease-On my travels, nearly all of the grounds managers that I have spoken to in recent weeks have commented on the regular fungal attacks of Fusarium and Leaf spot. It seems that no sooner has one application of fungicide gone on, that the disease seems to reappear as rampant as ever. Many of the grounds have already had four or five treatments in an attempt to eradicate the spores.

However while the wet and mild weather continues, the pattern of disease outbreak will remain high. As a point of note, the few venues visited where disease has been scarce, the implementation of trickle feed fertiliser programs and preventative spraying has quite obviously been the order of the day!

Wages-On a different note, the wages article raised much debate, it seems that the majority of us have similar feelings, that it is time that the remuneration reflected responsibility. It was also good to hear from many of you, that this should be coupled with a new equality-forming respect from our employers, who should recognise the quality of work, commitment and conscientiousness that most Groundsman put into their daily routine.

Within the piece I had written a short paragraph stating that as far as I was aware the IOG commission an annual survey, I have received a response from the IOG Chief Executive, Pat Gosset, clarifying the extent of the survey.

"the survey encompasses a wide spread of comparative information including the BIGGA scales, NJC local rates, trade press advertisements and a large sample of actual rates being paid to individuals from across the industry at 7 different grade levels. Agricultural wage board recommendations are also taken into consideration for comparative purposes, but only at the most junior levels".

"It should be emphasised that the IOG recommendations are provided as wide bands, some of which overlap. For each level of job there is a pro-forma position description which employers or employees can then modify to suit their individual circumstances ? and thus identify the appropriate position for an individual within the band. The salary band for a Grounds Manager in January 2002 will be from £21,555 to £29,160 for example".

Readers Letters-We receive a number of letters and e-mails from members and there are many issues that Groundsmen and Green Keepers have strong feelings about. Keep the letters coming in, but if you have an article or story that you wish to share as a featured piece then please contact the office to arrange a convenient time for me to come and take pictures to accompany the article. In the meantime I'll leave you with this letter sent in this week.

SCHOOL PLAYING FIELDS

Over the years, the conditions of many of our school playing fields have been allowed to deteriorate. The reasons for which have been primarily based on finance, although declining emphasis on sport in school curriculum?s and a serious lack of awareness have also been responsible.

Many of our Primary schools have very small sports fields that often get overused. Bear in mind that many areas used for competitive sports, whether it is in-house or inter-schools, double up for everyday use during break times, where the playing field is the only larger space available for children to play. On visits to these schools the damage to grassed areas is very apparent indeed. As little or no cash is being spent on the grass areas upkeep, the problems are compounded each year, to the point where the fields, in many cases, become unusable for large periods of time during the winter months.

Secondary schools and colleges, in the main, have larger areas available to them, though these areas are equally over used due to the high numbers of pupils and the larger number of sports covered for an older age group. Typically a schools sports field will be multi-used, with summer sports of athletics, rounders, tennis, cricket etc, being replaced in the autumn with the winter sports of football, rugby and hockey.

Most of these sports are carried out on grass areas. Children and young adults are naturally a lot more competitive and therefore are encouraged to develop further in their particular specialised sporting activity or activities. Unfortunately, the ?wear and care? of the field is very much secondary in the budgeting of most schools funds and the children continue to suffer, having to learn their skills on sub standard surfaces, assuming the field is dry enough to use in the first place.

One could argue, and rightly so that due to the size of the areas, wear and tear could be spread. This could be achieved if the site is ?managed? correctly, but often, an area is used so regularly that it becomes so worn out that natural recovery cannot happen. Simply moving markings around can re-distribute this wear and tear. Even if the school ?out sources? its grounds maintenance, then some commonsense from both the school co-ordinator and the contractor should suffice. There are too few schools putting to good use even basic good practice.

Problems associated with wear can vary dramatically of course. Two key issues are topography and the indigenous soil. Generally speaking, most schools have to make do with the facility available to them. The vast majority of these fields either don?t have drainage systems installed or ancient systems laid fifty years or more ago. Many playing fields were just levelled at the construction phase with the redistribution and levelling of the indigenous soil. A playing field situated lower than the surrounding area, will suffer from water coming onto the site from higher ground, so cut off drains at the very least, should be installed. This problem would certainly be exacerbated should the indigenous soil be of a clay nature and not free draining.

Difficulties of use mainly arise in the winter period for schools, but the extremely wet months through last autumn and winter showed up the inadequacies of our neglected playing fields. So much sport was lost because of the lack of basic maintenance presently afforded schools. Conditions were that bad that some even considered setting up a new sport. Outdoor field water polo! Never before could teachers remember a winter like it. Overcrowding in sports halls was the norm, where schools had not got all weather surfaces to continue playing their sports on. The knock on effect of this was having very frustrated and less fit and healthy children.

This year some schools have sought funding for drainage projects to alleviate these problems. A primary school nearby had a new herringbone drainage system installed this year on its sports field. Last year the pitches could only be used on a few occasions. Funds were raised by a local community initiative and the school now draws vital revenue from hiring out the pitch to local teams on a regular basis. Up to this point not one single game has been lost and there is high hope that this winters sport will be played, unabated by the weather. Many schools rely on the hire out of their pitches to boost revenue, so some money spent wisely on pitch maintenance can bring in additional revenues to allow further improvements.

For the majority of schools a major drainage project is not within the budget and in many cases it doesn?t need to be. For most, the combination of overuse and the lack of maintenance combine to provide an impermeable surface that floods in winter. The problem is more often, the water not being able to drain away as opposed to there being nowhere for the water to drain away to.

Good advice is clearly something that does not seem to be filtering out to those that need it. When limited funds are available the hope of it being spent correctly on the hire of a Vertidrain or Earthquake seem remote. These are machines that most schools and even some contractors have not heard of or seen. However an annual operation of sub soil aeration would benefit the playing fields immensely. I know of two schools who share a playing field, one school had Vertidrained their part of the field and continued to play sport outside well into the new year. The other school lost nearly all their winter sport and actually had to hire the neighbouring school pitches to fulfil their County cup fixtures.

Schools also need to understand that only by having regular aeration operations carried out, will their surface continue to improve, not just from the point of drainage but also plant density and improved wear and tear. Good practice of regular aeration will make the problems become much more manageable. Incorporation of bulky materials such as sports sand also needs consideration. So often in the past, schools have been given misguided information. Cheap grade sands only succeed in making matters worse, I have seen sands put down that varied from soft (building) sand to Coarse (screeding) sand, the former has a high clay content that helps to block air holes and cap the surface, the latter was too coarse and resulted in serious grazes and burns for the players.

Up until recently, CCT, meant tasks such as aerating, were either not on the specification or at best of limited use. Often, when a school really needed its pitches ?opening up? they were informed that spiking was not in the specification or their quota had already been fulfilled. If the school wanted to have their pitches spiked they would have to pay additional fees. Funds were often not there and the job wasn?t done. Who suffered? The children suffered.

Now we are in the realms of Best Value for local authorities, I feel that we can venture forth more positively. Yes, someone still has to foot the bill. However, these schools can now have their say. With the right information given to them, improvements can be made. They can now have the important tasks carried out to their pitches at the right times. Who gains? The children gain.

If problems arise regarding cost, our schools and colleges should be given funding to improve grass surfaces at all levels of sport. If the wet Autumn and Winter that we had to endure last year is going to be the rule rather than the exception, they will need all the help that they can get or else they will be firmly back at square one.

As parents, we have a duty to give our children the best opportunities possible in their early life. If they have a particular skill, we have to do what we can to help them improve upon it. If they are gifted academically, then let?s try to give them the best schools and colleges to attend. If they are gifted musically, then let?s give them the best musical instruments for them to use. If they are gifted at sport then let?s try to give them the best surfaces to play on, in order for them to achieve their goals and make us all proud.

This country has fallen behind in producing a regular stream of world-class sportsmen and women. Yet it has arguably some of the best sporting venues in the world and it certainly has the best Groundsmen in the world.

We should now strive to produce top quality sports surfaces starting at the ?grass roots?. For it is here, that it all begins.

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