Visit a school or two, especially one with its own grounds staff, and you might just be lucky enough to hear the zing of a cylinder gang mower giving a clip to the playing fields. More likely, however, because of the pressure of costs and the contractor’s need for "one-glove-fits-all" machinery, it will be the whirring hum of a tractor-mounted rotary that will meet your ears.
The rise of the rotary mower, and especially that of the roller mower, seems unstoppable. Such is the versatility and durability of these mowers, they can be found cutting grass at sites as diverse as sports clubs, stately homes and turf farms.
The 11 acres of pitches and training facilities at Poppleton, a village just west of York, are cut by a Wessex International roller mower. In all 25 teams use the facilities, including Poppleton Junior FC, an FA charter standard community club, with boys’ teams from under-sevens to under-19s, girls’ teams from under-10s to under-16s and a ladies’ open-age team in the North Riding Women’s Premier League.
Maintaining the grounds is the work of head groundsman Jim Ferguson. Twice winner of the Football Association’s step seven and below Groundsman of the Year award, Ferguson says much of the praise he receives for the high standard of the grounds is down to the Wessex ProLine RMX240. He reckons that the sheer smoothness of the running has cut the mowing time in half while producing a high-quality finish.
"The club, from chairman down, is so pleased with the results," says Ferguson. He first spotted the RMX240 at the annual BTME turf exhibition, held each January in Harrogate, and he believes that "it’s in another league". Following a demonstration of the mower attached to the club’s old tractor, Ferguson knew it was exactly what he wanted.
Of course, price is always a consideration, but a visit from the Institute of Groundsmanship resulted in a much welcomed grant becoming available through the Football Foundation. Ferguson adds: "It has made all the difference to the club and the players, and the speed of the mower even means I have time to cut crossways for perfect pitch presentation."
Poppleton Junior FC: Wessex ProLine RMX240 used on 11 acres of football pitches - image: Wessex International
The quality of finish and the ability to leave a striped presentation are two aspects that make the roller mower so popular. These were the aspects that appealed to His Grace the 12th Duke of Marlborough when he considered a new mower for Blenheim Palace.
The stately home, steeped in British history, has stood like a "jewel in the crown" in the English countryside at Woodstock, Oxfordshire, for more than 800 years. The estate consists of 12,500 acres, including commercially farmed and environmentally managed land, but with 2,100 acres directly connected to the palace as parkland and formal gardens.
Last year more than 750,000 visitors passed through the gates to experience the splendour of an exceedingly well-maintained historic property of significant national pride.
Managing the parkland and gardens is no mean feat. With such a wide area of parkland grass to keep under control, head of rural enterprise Roy Cox and his team have their work cut out. But then the duke spotted a Major Tri-Deck TDR200000 at a polo club.
"I saw the Major Tri-Deck mower operating at the Kirtlington Park Polo Club and it was leaving a fantastic finish," he confirms. "Right across the park there was a lovely striped finish, something we had always wanted to achieve at Blenheim. I knew right off that it would be the ideal mower for us and so I spoke with Mike Moss, head groundsman at Kirtlington Park, and we arranged for a demonstration through Farols at Milton Common, our local Major Equipment dealer."
The man responsible for grass maintenance at Blenheim is something of a legend in his own right. Ron Keay is 80 years old and has been working at Blenheim Palace for 65 years. He knows a good mower when he sees one.
"This Major Tri-Deck mower is fantastic," he enthuses. "We used to use a 16ft mower, but this new Major is 20ft and therefore we get across the ground quicker. It’s easy to attach and simple to adjust the height of cut, depending on what type of grass we are cutting.
"It’s very heavy-duty, built strong for the job, simple to maintain and follows the contours of the ground perfectly, so we don’t get any scalping. We cut around 3,000 acres per year and the Major is well capable of handling that task."
Keay loves his job. "This new Major mower leaves it with such a perfect striped finish that I’m absolutely delighted with the result," he adds. "It’s the same striping effect you would get with a cylinder mower, but far less costly. Now I’m even prouder of my work."
The duke concludes: "Lord Randolf Churchill, Sir Winston’s father, always said, as he passed through the gateway, that Blenheim was the finest view in England. I’m sure he would feel just as much pride in seeing the beautifully mown and striped grass that we see here today."
Trimax X-WAM: 10.4m cutting width, 10-110mm cutting height and full-width rollers - image: Edenvale Turf
Quality of cut and transport width were two features Edenvale Turf managing director Steve Light needed to consider when looking for a mower. Established in 1987, the turf farm extends across 300 acres of rolling Devon hills and supplies to major housebuilding companies throughout Devon, Somerset and parts of Cornwall.
Light chose Trimax Mowing Systems’ X-WAM, with a huge 10.4m (34ft) cutting width, a cutting height range from 10mm to 110mm and full-width rollers for striping. The mower has the potential to cut 33 acres per hour and performs zero-turns without the need to lift any decks. Yet, with hydraulic wing lift, it folds to just 2.8m (9ft 2in) for transport. That was an important consideration for Light.
"We have a lot of narrow lanes here in Devon, so the size of machinery is always an issue with us," he explains. "If you see some of the lanes that I have to go through, you would never expect us to fit a machine the size of the X-WAM through them. But you can easily fold it up and it’s really compact. I don’t have a problem taking it through the lanes at all."
As well as the hydraulic folding, the construction of the mower and the finish produced also impress Edenvale’s turf grower Martin White. "It’s really good and provides an excellent finish," he says. "It clears the grass and it doesn’t bridge any dips at all. The build quality is the most striking thing about the X-WAM. It’s a well thought out machine — simple yet effective. I would definitely recommend it."
Edenvale purchased the X-WAM from Campey Turf Care Systems. Sales specialist and ambassador for Campey Ian Pogson points out: "There isn’t any one thing that is the best feature — it’s a combination of things. It is a big mower and it covers a lot ground very quickly. Trimax has been growing for a number of years now and we’ve been selling a lot of their machines."
While there will always be situations where the cylinder gang is preferred or where the density and roughness of vegetation demands the use of a flail mower or perhaps a topper, the roller mower is likely to continue to gain ground. Its speed of work, quality of cut and the finish it leaves combine with running costs that will appeal to many users.
A new roller mower from Major Equipment, the Swift (above) comes in 4.1m and 5.5m cutting widths and boasts all the features and benefits of Major’s three-point linkage version, including kerb lift, but configured for trailed use. Aimed at contractors, turf farms, local authorities and anyone with significant travel between sites, it has LED road lighting and brakes. The six- and eight-bladed models have tractor requirements of 50hp and 70hp.
The trailed tri-deck multi-cut ProLine CRX-410 (below) was introduced at Saltex last year by Wessex International. Available with four castoring wheels for maximum manoeuvrability, front and rear rollers to leave a banded effect on fine turf or combination allowing longer grass to be tackled, it is suitable for sports turf, amenity applications and golf course fairways, roughs and semi-rough areas. It has high tip speed and a 4.1m cutting width. The unit requires a tractor of 35hp upwards.
Contractor flail collector
Used on conservation areas, for work from clearing invasive species to collecting heather seed for regeneration, the Contractor series flail collector (above) from Ryetec has been improved and toughened for harsh conditions. The new Super Series models feature a stronger flail shank and 20mm-diameter bolt to fix it to the rotor. The rotor is supported by two heavy-duty bearings housed in specially machined supports.