Reinforced turf

Clever new technologies are providing various ways to get greater use out of sports pitches.

We want to walk on it, sit on it, play football on it, ride horses across it and even hold car-boot sales on it. Grass is  versatile and resilient — but sometimes we simply ask too much of it.
The mud-bath football pitches on our TV screens in the 1960s and 1970s are, thankfully, a thing of a past. With the drainage and irrigation systems, aeration, the knowledge and expertise of grounds staff and technological revolutions in nutrition and grass breeding, there is little excuse for the top clubs failing to turn out near-perfect facilities. But what of the non-league clubs, playing fields and amenity areas?
Subjected to heavy wear, particularly when the climate throws everything at us from floods to droughts, and when the soil is far from ideal, the ground can suffer compaction. Baked hard in summer and a quagmire in winter, the result is bare patches as grass is eroded away.
Turf culture practices such as avoiding close mowing, resting the ground, improving drainage, relieving compaction and oversowing with hard-wearing cultivars may help to restore the sward, but they are not always appropriate or affordable. Another way to boost sward strength is to incorporate some form of reinforcement.
The aim of reinforcement is to redistribute the load, take the strain and bind the sward together. In some cases, it will enable the use of the facility to be extended — maybe for another couple of matches a week or another pop concert.
Study how the area is used and who is using it, the type of traffic and whether there is a peak season of use. Such an assessment will give valuable information for future decisions.
Depending on the system chosen, there may be some upheaval during installation. In the case of pitches and sports facilities, it may mean re-laying the surface, but the result should be a long-term improvement. Reinforcing areas such as overflow car parks may also involve temporary closure while the installation is completed.
Before checking the fixtures diary or events calendar for a window of opportunity, it is worth investigating the site to ensure no other underlying problem is causing the erosion. Perhaps it is just a blocked drainage system, or the grass could be stressed due to pests and disease. In some cases, it could be that the facility is sited in an unsuitable location and would be best moved, rather than spending money on remedial works.
The use of the area will largely determine the best type of reinforcement. For instance, if a sward is to be strengthened to cope with vehicle access or parking, it is the load-bearing capacity and frequency of use that become the important considerations. The choice of materials includes geotextiles, netting, high-density polyethylene grids and concrete honeycombs.
Special attention should be paid to areas where pedestrians have access. Pathways and tracks — particularly the level, easy-walking ones that attract the very young, elderly and less able — need to be finished to a high standard to ensure there are no trip points and that none will develop in the future.
Stepping stone paving may be the answer for crossing lawns, but various meshes and geotextiles are also available for incorporation into the surface. Some meshes can be laid on to the surface so that the grass grows through. There are also systems to provide temporary walkways.
For sports facilities, it is again essential that no trip points develop. This usually means incorporating the reinforcement into the surface. Several turf growers supply systems based on fibres. Yorkshire-based Lindum Turf offers Grassfelt, in which the turf is grown into a special felt. This system has been used successfully to reinforce one of the gallops at Newmarket.
A new product from Lindum is Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) Grassfelt. Trials of RTF have confirmed the grass has wear tolerances similar to perennial ryegrass. It also has good tolerance of shade, salt and frost, and can withstand waterlogging and drought, due to its deep rooting.
“RTF is capable of rooting to a depth of 1.5m,” says Lindum managing director Stephen Fell. “Coupled with our reinforced felt technology, RTF Grassfelt is perfect for dry, shady banks and steep inclines in a landscaping situation or to stabilise motorway embankments.”
RTF Grassfelt is available in a choice of biodegradable or non-biodegradable growing media. Like the original Grassfelt, it can be harvested to any size or shape required.

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