Conditions challenge contractors

Weather leads to more work while falling unemployment makes seasonal recruitment difficult.

Clearance work: invasive weeds - image: Complete Weed Control
Clearance work: invasive weeds - image: Complete Weed Control

Contractors are extra busy tackling vegetation growing "like crazy" as well as thriving pests and invasive weeds because of the warm spring and wet mild winter.

The additional work has come at the same time as falling unemployment making it harder to recruit seasonal staff in some areas.

Alan Abel from Complete Weed Control said grass is about six weeks ahead of last year, when it was not until May that it "woke up from a long winter".

Leatherjackets in particular are thriving. "They are very active and many golf fairways are being eaten alive. We are finding grubs as long as pound coins," he said.

Ground Control national training manager and BALI technical director Neil Huck agreed that leatherjackets are an increasing problem. "This year weeds are growing like crazy. It's fairly rapid. There are more leatherjackets around and they do a lot of damage to turf," he said. "The councils have all cut back on maintenance and we've got to live with it."

John O'Conner operations director Neil Cain said it is important to communicate regularly with clients on the issue. "This year's spring has been the third hottest in England so far and therefore we have had to deal with rapid vegetation across grass, hedges and shrub borders. Seasonal recruitment in the South East has also been difficult due to a drop in unemployment," he added.

Meanwhile, invasive weeds such as Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and floating pennywort were in their element during this winter's floods and the mild and wet conditions in general.

Abel said: "Icade, which needs a stewardship lecture before buying, is the new product incorporating aminopyralid and triclopyr that will control these weeds.

"Slender speedwell is showing up in managed amenity turf, so the more high-end products such as Cabadex and Praxys are necessary to knock out this innocuous-looking weed as it creeps further and further without people realising."

Olympic park Coping with pests and weeds

At the brand new Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where £70m was reportedly spent on Japanese Knotweed removal before London 2012, pests are less of a problem.

"We haven't seen any more leatherjackets than normal but the soil is still pretty sterile so we don't have a real build-up of pests - that will come in time," said park manager Alistair Bayford of the Landscape Group.

However, the River Lee does bring floating pennywort and Himalayan balsam downriver to the heart of the park.

"It's quite challenging. Floating pennywort is a problem and we've identified Himalayan balsam. We'll deal with that over the next week. It germinates very well from seed so we find it floats downriver and takes root in the shallow areas created for bird nesting," said Bayford.

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