Whatever the sporting activity, efficient drainage is an essential element in maintaining a good playing surface. Loss of use due to waterlogging or turf damage can result in a backlog of games, dissatisfied sportsmen and women, cancelled fixtures and even serious financial loss.
An efficient drainage scheme will eliminate waterlogging, reduce compaction, allow easier maintenance and more flexible management of valuable resources. Improved drainage will result in a better soil structure, fewer weeds, a healthier sward and more economical use of fertilisers.
Yet, it wasn't so long ago that sports turf drainage was dominated by agricultural land drainage contractors, and it took the foresight of a few to introduce new methods and machinery designed specifically for sports surfaces. Coupled with improved aeration techniques, sports surfaces are unrecognisable from those of the 1980s.
Turfdry was established in 1995 by Melvyn Taylor, when he identified a clear market opportunity for specialist sports turf drainage, having seen how effective the US manufactured Hydraway Sportsdrain had been whilst working for the coal board.
The geotextile drainage system had been used successfully on landfill and landscaping projects and Melvyn identified that it could be equally as effective on sports surfaces.
Having overcome scepticism voiced by many when the system was first introduced, the Turfdry Drainage System as it is known in the UK, is now proven as an effective and less disruptive alternative to conventional plastic pipe drainage systems, although Melvyn is at pains to point out that his company do offer traditional methods where Hydraway is not suitable and/or productive.
Pitchcare caught up with Melvyn to see how the system had transformed an area of derelict land, formerly part of Silverdale Colliery in Newcastle-under-Lyme, into formal football pitches as part of a larger scheme for the redevelopment of the overall colliery site for residential and recreational use.
Melvyn explained that the Hydraway system has a number of advantages over conventional schemes in that it can be laid shallower, the width of the pipe is narrower and the surface area larger for the ingress of water. The system is also wrapped with a membrane to prevent silting up.
Silverdale is part of a reclamation scheme for the community of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, with the council able to use Section 106 monies to develop land for community use in conjunction with new housing developments.
The new pitches will form part of a new Silverdale community scheme where a group of housing developments are served by a brand new community centre with access to these new pitches. Work under the watchful eye of the Council landscape architect, Rebecca Allen, began in 2010 when Turfdry were appointed to carry out the construction of the new pitches. The council had employed the company's services in the past and were confident in their ability to deliver the project on time and within budget.
After surveying the site, a works programme was put in place. This involved the creation of a new temporary site access to provide access onto the existing playing field plateau. The decision to open this access was taken on Health & Safety grounds as it provided separate access for the sports pitch construction works rather than sharing the existing access with the house-building contractors.
Also, as part of the enabling works, the existing water lying on the site was removed by means of digging sumps and pumping.
The existing site consisted of several metres of 'engineered clay', below which two mineshafts had been capped with concrete. The existing site levels survey showed that the site was generally flat, though slightly concave in the flooded areas.
Football pitches need to have a gradient for drainage purposes, so an initial cut and fill exercise was undertaken to achieve the levels.
Throughout the course of all the earthworks and the subsequent drainage phase of the project, public access to the site was prohibited for safety reasons.
Once the correct gradients had been established by the cut and fill works to the existing clay sub-base, a nominal 200mm layer of subsoil was imported, spread and laser-graded over the plateau.
Turfdry obtained an Environment Agency waste exemption certificate enabling 5,000 tonnes of suitable material to be imported onto the site for this purpose.
Following negotiations, material was sourced from the adjacent house-building site, thereby reducing environmental impact as the material could be transferred directly between sites without having to go on public roads.
The final surface levels were created by importing and spreading a 300mm layer of certified topsoil and laser grading.
A comprehensive drainage system was installed with Hydraway Sportsdrain at two metre centres, connecting to a system of plastic carrier pipes and chambers that outfall into the larger of the two attenuation ponds at an agreed invert level of 152.65m.
The system was laid using a conventional drainage trencher with a modified 'boot' to help align the rectangular drainage material into the bottom of the trench. The 60mm wide trench was cut to a depth of 400mm, the pipe is fed into the bottom of the trench, overlaid with 200mm of gravel and topped up with 50mm blinding layer of rootzone/sand to the surface.
Being able to cut such a narrow slit also helped reduce the amount of spoil to be taken off site.
Following the completion of the drainage works (August 2011), the playing field area was completely fenced with Heras temporary fencing to allow the general public into the wider surrounding country park area.
Upon completion of the drainage works the site was cultivated and seeded.
Germination was good and a healthy sward was established before winter. The drainage system coped extremely well with the torrential rain in January 2012:
The site was handed over to the client in excellent condition ready for the start of the 2012/13 football season, but changing facilities and the new clubhouse have only recently been completed, allowing the pitches to be brought into use just before the site's 'official opening' on 14th February 2014. The football club based at the community centre has now taken on the lease agreement and responsibility for maintenance of the pitches.
Officials at the club were delighted that the drainage system enabled the club to stage a recent Saturday league fixture when every other game but one in their league was postponed due to waterlogging problems.
Melvyn is proud of the work they have completed for the council, especially knowing that his unique drainage system has again proved to be a success.