Grass Clippings

COP26, the Club and the Climate

This week will see the conclusion of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26 for short, which is being held in Glasgow. Leaders to high profile delegates have all signalled that this is one of the most crucial points in history when humankind will have to commit to a strategy to alter the way we live on this planet to preserve the way of life as we know it. The consequences of doing nothing or countries not honouring what has been agreed is far grimmer than most people can imagine. The UK Chief Scientific Adviser has rightly stated that only through technological intervention and change of behaviour have we got a hope of correcting the path away from what is inevitable and preserving life in some approximation of how we know it today. It’s a solemn tone for an opening paragraph of Grass Clippings but as someone who was a teenager in the 1980’s I remember the first documentary on the issue which was aired on TV in 1981. The Warming Warning was a controversial programme, certainly the information and impact on the future were astounding and much of the evidence was disputed and called into question. For much of the last 40 years, scientists on both sides of the argument have made claims and counter claims over the data and what is fact and probability. It is in only recent times as news reports have highlighted the effects of fire storms, floods and mega hurricanes on the change in the climate,  that no one can refute this.

But the effects are also happening on our doorstep. As land-based professionals, looking after sports areas involves recording and analysing data on the weather which affects our site and the geographical area. The last ten years have marked a greater variance in the statistical data than of any period since record keeping began. We have seen the highest temperature recorded in the southeast as well as greater velocity rainstorms and increased amounts of rain. The occurrence of torrential down pours is more frequent and unpredictable, so not tethered to the normal seasons in which we would expect such weather conditions.

In our little corner of the metropolis, it often goes unnoticed that most of our estate actually resides on a hill with a 12-metre difference in height from the top of the site to its lowest side. It’s a shallow mound but from the university campus, water drains from to us and our other neighbour, Ibstock School sports field, down onto the golf course, predominately towards the middle holes and towards Priory Lane. The land itself is a clay loam soil, characteristically of the London basin material found west of the city. Although we have improved the top surface, through sand dressing and aeration, the ability to drive tines in the ground is limited by the standard size of the tine which are manufactured. In terms of the golf course itself, it underwent a reconfiguration in the 1950’s, when polo was discontinued, and the routing of the course revamped. All of the greens and tees then were ‘push-up’ construction, meaning the indigenous soil was basically pushed together and shaped to create the contours of the site. The same is true for the bunkers and whatever additional works they could afford to do beyond these areas. Since the 1960s, sports construction techniques have advanced a great deal. Anyone who has watched re-runs of football matches from the 1970s will be aware of the winter mud-bath state of even division one grounds back in the day. Soil-based sports surfaces have their limitations and the move towards sand-based sports systems came into their own during this time. Ripping up the golf course isn’t really an option, to start again would be a costly exercise and lead to a long period of closure. But the dilemma of how climate change effects the course and other surfaces is one that we shall all have to live with now and in the future. New drainage plans are being worked on to try to alleviate the flooding issues at minimum cost. To paraphrase  Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance we will have to adopt technology in the future but also alter our behaviour to accept that the weather will dictate more how we use the course and sports areas well into the future.

Going digital at Kew Gardens

The Government is to fund £15 million digitisation of the Herbarium at Kew Gardens in a major boost to ‘revolutionise’ climate change research during the opening week of COP26. Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke, confirmed the funding on a visit to the world’s largest collection of plant and fungal specimens. The historic archive spans 170 years and includes specimens collected by Charles Darwin.  The Herbarium houses eight million plant and fungal specimens with some dating back the earliest years of the age of plant collectors. Digitising this treasure trove of information will also ensure that it is protected from gradual deterioration with age or catastrophic loss from fire. The Government-funded project, which is estimated to take four years to complete, will also support ongoing projects at Kew, including mapping endangered tropical plants in East Africa and Madagascar, protecting vital biodiversity.

Christmas tree chaos

If Christmas trees are your thing then it may be prudent to reserve your favourite fir early this year. Some Elf informers have suggested some garden centres say Christmas tree demand is up 250% and prices have risen £10. Newburgh Christmas Trees in York says it fears panic buying and that there are fewer Christmas trees available because of unsuitable growing weather in Scotland. It says one garden centre has seen pre-season orders rise 250%. Pallet prices have risen from £23-£45 because of timber shortages. HGV drivers are in short supply as seasonal workers. Trees now imported to the UK will also need a phytosanitary certificate which means delays are inevitable. Early demand was high in 2020 but the season ended up with similar numbers as 2019. Garden retailers have warned not to buy early as real cut trees only last about a month indoors.

Peter Bradburn, Course and Grounds Manager –