Horticulture teams battle extreme weather conditions

Storm-blown tree - image: Stefan Magdalinski
Storm-blown tree - image: Stefan Magdalinski

Stormy weather continuing to blitz parks, landscapes, sports areas and horticultural crops is throwing up dangers of plant bruising, root decay and loss of earnings from visitors and spectators.

Growers and grounds staff have been fighting to protect crops and green spaces in the face of strong winds, heavy downpours and high tides. The Environment Agency has issued more than 70 flood warnings and more than 230 flood alerts, with 11 "severe" warnings in the South West.

Torridge District Council in Devon had to lock the gates to parts of the 250ha North Burrows Country Park because large sections have been flooded.

A spokesman for City & County of Swansea, meanwhile, said the parks team had 52 call-outs to deal with damaged trees in the past two weeks, but the main problem area has been parks.

"Quite a few oak trees in Singleton Park were damaged," he added. "Our out-of-hours emergency response team worked 50 hours out of normal office hours, including on Christmas Day."

Wind toppled a large Scots pine at Batsford Arboretum in mid Glamorgan, said director of operations Stuart Priest. The site had to be shut on several days because of high winds.

"We draw the line and shut at forecasts of winds of 30mph or above, so this has affected visitor numbers," he added. "We have established windbreaks and mature trees but anything can go down."

Bad weather ruled out last weekend's horse racing at Sandown as well as several FA Cup fixtures due to waterlogged pitches.

Meanwhile, many sports pitches and play facilities in Tewkesbury were under water, according to the borough council's grounds maintenance officer John Vine.

"We have installed more flood defences thanks to money from central Government but if the river floods you can't stop it. We will verti-drain and spike in spring and have learned to avoid winter and spring bedding and use only dogwood and willow."

David Beadsmoore, director at edible and ornamental grower Colour Gro in Distington, Cumbria, said: "We have coped very well against the extreme weather conditions as a result of improved site maintenance and I am pleased that the worst of the storms were when we had no employees on site from a safety point of view."

He added: "We have certainly been up against significant challenges over the past few seasons - wettest, coldest, driest, stormiest periods etc - with peak demand timings varying greatly."

Consultant John Adlam said peat-reduced media such as bark improve drainage, but container growers in flood-risk areas should raise stock on tables or upturned trays to avoid root disease.

"However, the situation for field-grown crops, trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials is extremely difficult because it's hard to get on the land without damaging it. Growers forced onto the land should limit areas of machine activity to avoid compaction and unnecessary damage to soil profiles. They should keep to areas that can be restored in spring."

Adlam recalled a nursery in Devon that saw more than half its stock washed away by floods. In such situations some growers are using peat or compost bales as temporary water barricades.

Brassica Growers Association chairman Matthew Rawson agreed: "Members have to deal with bad weather all the time but it's usually frost at this time of year. We do a lot of planning and look at varieties that are better at withstanding bad weather, but one of the biggest issues is how you get onto the land."

Meanwhile, landscapers must keep their clients fully informed in writing of any weather problems, setbacks, programmes of work and future plans, according to consultant Alan Sargent. "This will avoid nasty come-backs on delays and extra work needed."

HW technical editor Sally Drury said: "Grounds staff or head gardeners who prepared their grass in autumn by tackling compaction and tackling drainage will be in a much better position.

"In local authorities there is not enough money spent on preparing surfaces for winter use so a lot of pitches, including school grounds, will be a mess. Managers and ground owners will see the mess and want to put down a synthetic all-weather pitch, for all the wrong reasons."

Risk alerts

"Wet conditions have left the ground saturated in many areas, increasing the risk of river and surface-water flooding. We urge people to check their flood risk, sign up to free flood warnings and keep an eye on flood updates via our website and Twitter."

Jonathan Day, flood risk manager, Environment Agency


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