Spare a thought for two Worcester sporting venues where flooding is almost an annual event
This winter's torrential rain has caused huge problems the length and breadth of the British Isles. Groundstaff and, in many cases, volunteers have been working overtime to ensure that fixtures are played and travelling fans are not disappointed. Whilst the rainfall has been exceptional this winter spare a though for two Worcester sporting venues where flooding is almost an annual event.
Both Worcestershire County Cricket Ground at New Road and Worcester Racecourse sit alongside the River Severn and, when she breaks her banks, it is not unusual for water levels to exceed 1.5 metres (5 feet) across the turf.
On a recent visit to Worcester I caught up with both groundsmen; Tim Packwood at New Road and Andrew Bourton at Worcester Racecourse. You would think that there is not a lot they can do other than wait for the water to subside, but both are well practiced in 'damage limitation'. This winter's concern is that the floods, which arrived in mid December, were two months earlier than usual.
At New Road, the speed at which the water comes into the ground is quite astonishing. Tim keeps an eye on the local flood warnings and knows that, when they move to red, it will only be a matter of hours before the ground is flooded!
Tim has been with the Worcestershire CCC for well over 17 years and is well versed in the problems the floodwater brings. He and his staff prepare by removing all machinery and perishable goods to a safe haven. Smaller items, such as hand tools, fertilisers and seed are moved upstairs into storage, whilst all the main maintenance machinery - mowers, scarifyers, aerators and rollers - are moved to an off-site storage facility. Some of the mowers will have been sent away for winter servicing and will not be returned until spring.
Larger items, such as practice nets and wheel covers, remain on-site where they are made secure and left to face the floods. The final task is to install markers around the perimeter of the square so that staff know its location when the flood begins to reside.
The damage each flood brings is dependant on a number of factors; the severity of the flood, how long it lasts and the depth it reaches. The river usually breaks it banks on the south side of the ground flooding large tracts of land before making its way into the ground, bringing with it loads of debris.
Damage cannot be calculated until the floodwater has subsided and the big clean up begins. The biggest problem for Tim is the silt left behind after the floods. He cannot afford to let the water disperse totally and be left with a layer of silt on the square. So, when the water reaches a depth between 300mm-450mm (12"-16") they begin to drag mat the square.
This is achieved by a well-rehearsed method of attaching a drag mat to two long ropes pulled by the groundstaff from either end of the square. They continue to disperse the silt over several days until the flood water has completely gone. No further work can be carried out on the square until it has dried out sufficiently. This can take at least a week.
The next job is to remove all the debris from the ground. It is surprising the amount of rubbish that the floods deposits. Tim and his team will clear away at least six large skips full of cans, bottles, branches and leaves.
It is not possible to disperse the silt on the outfield in the same manner as on the square. The staff have to wait to until the floodwaters have gone and the surface is dry enough to work on. It is important to get the grass standing up again and get some air back into the soil profile. This is achieved by brushing, harrowing and aeration.
The water will often deposit residues of oil and pollutants so, in the spring, Tim will carry out soil testing to check the nutrient status and toxicity of the soil profiles in both the square and outfields. This gives a health check of the facility and enables Tim to decide on an appropriate course of action to rectify any problems.
The grass on both the square and outfield usually recovers quite quickly; it all depends on how long the floods cover the ground. In most cases the floodwater only remains on the ground for a few days. However, the last time it flooded, water remained on the ground for over two weeks, resulting in over 50% of grass cover being lost
A successful end of season renovation is also a key factor in helping the grass survive the rigors of the floods. Tim likes to ensure that he gets a good dense cover of grass growing into the winter months.
This year's end of season renovations involved the following operations:
• The square was fraised mown, taking 6 mm of debris off the square.
• Scarified using the Graden in two directions finishing in the line of play.
• Aerated using a Patterson solid tine spiker to create a key for the dressing
• Top dressed applying 6 bags of GOSTD supernatural loam per pitch (23 pitches)
• Overseeded in four directions with 8 bags of grass seed (40% Greenway, 40% Greenfair and 20% Ace (a modification of Rigby Taylor's R9 seed mix)
• Application of autumn winter fetiliser 5-5-10 to square.
Repainting and refurbishing water-damaged structures is left until late March when the flood season is, hopefully, over. But, with this latest flood coming earlier than usual, Tim and his staff may well have to repeat the whole process again before the start of the 2007 playing season.
It is a similar story at Worcester Racecourse where Estate Manager, Andrew Bourton, also has plenty of experience of flooding, having worked at the course for the past 26 years.
Worcester Racecourse is a one mile five furlong Hurdle and Chase course that operates a racing calendar from March-November. As soon as the racing season has finished Andrew and staff begin the task of removing the fences, to a flood safe area, where they are stored and refurbished over winter.
Andrew is in a similar boat to Tim (excuse the pun) and also has to store materials and machinery, plus carpets and furniture, on an area of the site not affected by the floods.
Andrew and his five staff keep themselves updated with the latest weather forecasts. They know that within hours of receiving a red alert on the floodline the course will be flooded.
The extent of damage to the sward is dependant on how long the floodwater remains. Any longer than two weeks and grass cover will be affected. In 2002 parts of the course were flooded for over six weeks resulting in huge areas of dead grass. But there is not much Andrew and his staff can do other than monitor the situation. Once the flood has gone and the course has dried out an inspection can be carried out.
Worcester Racecourse is owned by Arena Leisure who own several other racecourses. The group shares equipment, which
allows for greater flexibility and efficiency during maintenance operations.
This gives Andrew access to large Vertidrain machines which he usually calls upon after the flood waters have subsided. As soon as the ground dries out sufficiently the groundstaff will spend time harrowing and aerating the course, paying particular attention to the worst affected areas.
With other floods likely the staff will wait until March before the final clean up takes place.
Late February and March will be a busy time for Andrew who, within a few weeks, has to get the course back into a racing condition.
By the time the first fixtures are played at New Road and racing has started at Worcester many of the attending crowds and punters would never guess that these two sporting venues had been flooded with over 5 feet of water - and perhaps on more than one occasion!