A brisk walk through your local park or garden can be an enjoyable experience even on the coldest of days. In fact, the winter months have a lot to offer those who love the outdoors.
Maintaining green spaces and keeping them safe can, however, be a challenge during cold, wet and windy weather which can run right through from autumn to spring.
At the Met Office we understand that having the right weather information can make a big difference in ensuring that maintenance and gardening tasks are carried out at the appropriate times. During the autumn months, leaf collecting can be an onerous task and inevitably goes on for some time. Using weather forecasts to monitor when winds might result in higher leaf loss can help establish when to make the best use of resources to collect the leaves.
The move into winter can be an excellent time to undertake maintenance tasks while foliage is minimal, but hard frosts can make ground work such as digging or sinking fence posts difficult.
Understanding and using weather forecasts can aid operational planning, ensuring that tasks appropriate to the weather are carried out and that time is not wasted on jobs better suited to different weather conditions. Volunteers are often used to help with maintenance work in their local parks and gardens, so ensuring that their time is well spent will make the best possible use of this valuable resource.
Forecasts can help determine when the change in season will occur. This is useful as autumn approaches but also as the winter comes to an end. Many plants benefit from pruning just before new growth to ensure the fastest healing, so timing this to coincide with the beginning of milder spring weather can have an impact on the foliage for the coming summer.
The Landscape Group uses weather forecasts all year round to help keep the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London looking its best. Forecast and recorded rainfall and temperature is monitored to enable effective planning and co-ordination of resources such as their non-pot irrigation system. As Alistair Bayford, assistant director of the Landscape Group’s Strategic Parks Management team, describes, "We use weather forecast products to great success during the winter to support the delivery of the winter operations plan at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park." In addition, The Landscape Group is planning to look at the long-term links between the weather and plant, habitat and species establishment on site at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and will be reporting these findings in its biodiversity action plan.
In addition to scheduled maintenance work and gardening tasks, keeping parks and gardens safe for visitors during the colder, wetter and windier months can be difficult. Heavy rain can make surfaces very muddy or cause flooding of streams and ponds. High winds can make trees unsafe, and ice can make paths dangerously slippery. There may be times when closing an area to the public due to safety concerns is the only option, but using weather forecasts to inform decision-making can reduce unnecessary closures by making weather-appropriate decisions and enabling safety concerns to be addressed.
If very wet weather is forecast locally or on higher ground, it may be prudent to direct visitors away from any streams which could become engorged and dangerous. Flooding has affected many parts of the UK over the last couple of years, and parks and gardens teams should be vigilant of any flood warnings that may be issued by the Environment Agency as well as Met Office weather warnings.
Icy weather causes dangers to both drivers and pedestrians. Gritting car parks when road surface temperatures could cause freezing will keep visitors to your parks and gardens safe when arriving and departing. Meanwhile, gritting and salting footpaths helps avoid accidents.
Grass also needs to be protected from walkers as they keep away from footpaths in order to avoid slipping on icy surfaces. Road surface temperature forecasts play an important part in determining when gritting and salting are necessary, as simple air temperature forecasts are not an accurate indicator. Time and resources can be saved by not gritting unnecessarily, whilst safety can be assured by gritting when needed.
In the changeable British climate, weather forecasts can be invaluable to parks and gardens teams helping them to ensure that their locations look their best all year round. General forecasts as well as specialist information can inform planning for both horticultural and grounds maintenance aspects, improving use of resources, operational efficiency and safety.