Industry assesses next steps after storms

Arborists, gardeners, groundsmen and grounds maintenance crews among professionals contributing to flood response.

Flood response: further clear-up work will be seen in weeks ahead - image: Bigga
Flood response: further clear-up work will be seen in weeks ahead - image: Bigga

As hopes grow that a tempestuous winter and unprecedented levels of rainfall will settle into an ordinary spring, teams across the horticulture industry are now assessing the impact of the storms and floods and looking to the weeks ahead.

Arborists, gardeners, groundsmen and grounds maintenance crews have been at the sharp end of flood response, from battling to get power lines back up to helping troops fill sandbags.

The weeks ahead will see further clear-up work, keeping staff who are unable to get onto sodden land working, while examining trees and plants for root rot or instability.

In utility arboriculture, a highly sensitive area from a safety point of view, it is predicted that one long-term result will be even more regular checks along higher-voltage lines leading to a need for more specialist staff.

For growers, waterlogged soil is also an issue, as is the increase in aphids and other pests seen with mild temperatures. Invasive species too will spread. The lack of a winter cold snap may prove to be as much of an issue in the season ahead as the wet.

For some, there is a silver lining among the clouds. Association of Professional Landscapers chairman and Landform Consultants managing director Mark Gregory said although he feels for the individuals affected by the floods, the bad weather will mean an increase in business opportunities, while landscape architects hope that sustainable urban drainage work will increase.

Despite worries over a potential delay to the start of the gardening season, some ornamentals growers and retailers pointed out that people with storm-damaged gardens will want to replace plants and trees, while other gardeners will be encouraged by mild winter temperatures.

Contractor searches

Searches for trusted contractors on Government-endorsed website TrustMark in January 2014 compared with 2013:

- Garden landscapers: 9,601 (up from 2,601).

- Fence installers: 26,293 (up from 2,960)

- Tree surgeons: 10,472 (up from 3,532)

Practitioners from across the industry assess the impact of recent severe weather and look to the future

Mark Gregory, Association of Professional Landscapers chairman and Landform Consultants managing director

"It can only be good for the industry. It's going to force the Government to work on the bigger picture - rain gardens, green roofs the whole green infrastructure thing - and put landscape on the agenda. I think we're paying for urbanisation over the past 30 or 40 years and a reduction in maintenance. Spring's going to come really quickly. We're all going to be under the cosh."

Karl Lee, Utility Arboriculture Group chairman and West Coast Network Services managing director

"The storms will probably focus attention on thinking about safety. It's getting more and more difficult to predict because our weather is becoming even more unpredictable. Higher-voltage lines will almost certainly be surveyed more frequently. It's more business for us and I think in terms of the industry it probably means we can employ more people.

"(Utility arborists have been) wading in water up to their necks (to get to trees that were causing problems with power lines)."

Lindsay Hulme, production and technical manager, E Oldroyd & Sons

"We have strawberries on tabletops and the roots are just sitting in water and are likely to rot. We will have to put the covers on them now to allow them to dry out, but that's taking a risk with the winter winds. We already have aphids on them as well."

Andy McIndoe managing director, Hillier

"Gardeners I have talked to say it's too wet to plant, but they'll be out there as soon as they can. One good thing is it's been mild, though it's unlikely we'll not get another cold snap, which is always damaging in March."

Bob Ivison, Parks consultant

"The situation is devastating in some areas. It will be very difficult for parks managers. Initially they will have to wait for the flood water to retreat and that will take a long time. Turf will disappear, bedding will die out and trees in the longer term will start showing affects. It will cost more money, both in replacement and loss of income in sports turf.

"Councils will have to rethink infrastructure, dealing with the water and remodelling of open spaces. People thought sustainable urban drainage schemes were just a nice thing to have but now we've seen the results of not having them."

Evan Giles, Parks and countryside manager, Horsham Council

"We've got big problems with trees - we've had 100 down in total. The priority now is to make safe and we have to wait until the ground improves. There will be a backlog of work to address.

"The amount of rainfall and the changing weather conditions will make people look at drainage and ditch maintenance, which perhaps they haven't been doing because of the cuts.

"Normally we would have started grass cutting by now, but there's no way that we can get anywhere near the ground. Local authorities will need to pay more to collect grass that they would normally have been able to let fly, otherwise it becomes really problematic.

"The important thing for me is to be able to make people aware of the cost implications of the bad weather and explaining why - because people's memories are very short."

Steve Daniels, secretary, Worcestershire Association of Groundsmen

"February is the time we would normally be preparing the ground for the coming season and playing may be delayed in some areas. Some flooded grounds will be covered in silt when the water goes down, which brings health risks, especially if they've been flooded with sewage - you've got to be really careful and need protective boots, gloves and mask.

"As the water drops down you can try and agitate the surface so that it flows away or use a hosepipe to wash it off to the outfield and then harrow it to break off the surface. It's one thing at the grounds where you have professional groundsmen but amateurs might not be able to cope."

Ian Wright, National Trust South West gardens adviser

"After any storm all National Trust gardens will undertake a special audit before opening to the public. We also have an annual audit. Gardeners will have to avoid any work on the soil because of the amount of rainfall, which will raise the issue of compaction so they have to adapt."

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