Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best Grounds

Winner - The University of Winchester Campus Management Team

University of Winchester   

The 13-hectare University of Winchester is comprised of three campuses; two with academic facilities and student accommodation and sports stadium in the third. This area, used by around 7,500 students plus staff is looked after by three full-time and two part-time university employees. They carry out all horticultural operations, apart from major tree works and tree inspections, offering stakeholders and the general public a peaceful, eye-catching, and functional environment in which to visit and work.

Maintaining and developing three different campuses with their own distinct topography and requirements as well as supporting university events such as open days and sports meetings and developing the university’s environmental strategies presents a challenge to the small grounds team.

The university’s Strategic Plan includes a commitment to improve site biodiversity and the team has been working with this and a Biodiversity Action Plan' carried out by members of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. It has delivered projects such as rewilding and new ponds across the campus.

A rolling programme of building renovation and development allows for landscaping and planting projects which take into account biodiversity, ease of maintenance, and sustainability. New planting is carried out in-house with the grounds team giving design input, which makes the transition to high-standard maintenance afterwards seamless.

Providing a safe environment for everyone to live and work in is a top priority for all at the University and the grounds manager and team play an essential role in delivering this. Alongside horticultural tasks the team looks after all paths and ensures they are kept clear, including during extreme weather. Grounds staff also work with a team of casually-employed students who undertake external bin emptying and site litter picking. The grounds team also carries out its own regular machine maintenance and small scale propagation in a greenhouse.

Trees are visually inspected from the ground by an arboricultural consultant at every two years and in some cases annually. Aerial or climbing inspection is also carried out on larger trees every three years. Staff safety is also a top priority, with regular training provided and safe working practices embedded into the working culture. The team has also transitioned from petrol-based machinery to battery powered equipment and now around 75% is battery operated, cutting noise and vibrations. Steep grassed slopes are allowed to grow - as are steep slopes with 'shrubby' vegetation - which minimizes risk of operator injury by reducing the frequency of visits and frees up the time it would take to maintain regularly.

Even though the university's grounds team is small and operates over three campuses of varying complexity, its members strive for and achieve an environment that staff and students find pleasure to work and study in.

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