Provisional Advice Statement on Covid19 Lockdown to Clients regarding Grounds Maintenance

Our current advice to our clients is as follows and may be subject to industry and government approval or modification in due course:

Staff Wellbeing: The Most Important Element.

Managers must conduct a Risk Assessment of all staff working practices and behaviours assessing risk of virus transfer and exposure.  An action plan for a worker becoming sick/injured during work is strongly recommended.

Particular measures likely to be necessary are:

  • Less work will be required on facilities doing only essential work so smaller work teams are likely to be necessary.
  • Ensure workers maintain social distancing in the work place and always maintain a minimum 2metre distance from each other.
  • Ensure staff work independently.
  • Where possible individual machines should be allocated to identified workers.
  • All machinery will be washed down with detergent based cleaning solution and, if possible, antiviral (not antibacterial) cleaner.
  • Walky-talkies/radios are a particular risk and shall be individually assigned and wiped with antiviral cleaner at the beginning and end of shifts.  If possible chargers shall be separated and taken to workers homes to avoid cross contamination.
  • Staff should wear gloves as far as is possible.
  • Communal areas should be closed and staff should bring all the following items in individually:
  • Work clothing
  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Eating and drinking implements.
  • Working entry and exit points where community contact is likely to take place shall be wiped down at the beginning and end of the day and at the beginning and end of all breaks.
  • Breaks should be taken in isolation/ deploying social distancing.
  • Lone working shall be carefully monitored and staff “check–ins” completed on at least hourly intervals if undertaking any activity alone.
  • Toilet areas shall be fully stocked with soap and have hot water available and each user to sanitise the handle and seat and doors and taps on each occasion used.
  • Any enclosed areas shall be as well ventilated as possible.
  • Tool stations are a risk area and workers will need to sanitise any communally used tools and generally use gloves.  Ideally each worker should have their own tools for common use items.
  • Footpaths and community access routes through facilities may place a duty of care to sterilise gate fastenings and erection of Covid19 good practice guidelines.
  • Managers will have to take an active role managing workers not leave them to their own devices or engage in other work – management of staff must be their priority.
  • Managers may also have to account for mental health anxiety around staff coming to work for a variety of reasons.  Workers should not be coerced or pressured into working if they are uncomfortable with the situation.
  • All staff must report any symptoms and follow government and Health Service advice if unwell regarding self-isolation and disease control measures.
  • Grounds Maintenance: A consideration of what constitutes “Essential Maintenance”

    Inevitably all facilities will take a financial and deterioration “hit” from the closure to play.  In order that facilities do not fail completely as businesses it is essential they maintain some basic maintenance to sustain their surfaces in a “holding pattern” so they can be bought back to performance surfaces in future.  Government, Sports governing bodies and Professional organisations may have a view on “Essential Maintenance” but we are currently suggesting the following until such time as advice is forthcoming:

    All work carried out must be with a view to the following:

    1. This situation of lockdown may continue for some time, probably months.
    2. All persons should act as if they have and carry the virus, rather than being free from it so the duty is to avoid spreading the illness rather than simply personally avoiding it, thus prevention is also avoidance.
    3. Facilities have to be maintained or they will deteriorate fast and be unable to reopen for months when the lock-down lifts. Indeed, our view is if a fine turf area receives no maintenance they will fail and take months to get back on an operational basis with catastrophic impacts for the club or business.
    4. A “holding pattern” of maintenance at a lesser input level is necessary to:
      • Maintain the surface viability of playing areas, especially bowling greens, cricket tables & outfields, grass tennis courts, high quality winter sports turf pitches but also lower standard facilities in parks and schools – all of which are highly vulnerable and costly to restore if they fail.
      • Cut costs.
      • Limit working hours to the absolute minimum (and therefore worker exposure and minimising costs).
      • Reduce biotic pressure on the grass plants thereby reducing the risk of disease and other problems that cause long term damage.
      • Allow facilities to emerge from a “holding pattern” able to offer compromised playing facilities within a week of Lock Down being lifted.
      • Kept in such condition that the businesses and facilities are able to provide customer experience of near normal playing conditions within 2-4 weeks of Lock Down being lifted.

    The following list is the items that we consider to be essential maintenance on each type of surface in order to hold a surface in a “holding pattern” (subject to advice from governing bodies):

    Bowling Greens

    • Mowing - at 6-8mm on a maximum of 3 occasions per week (also reduce water demand).
    • Growth retardant – apply trinexapac-ethyl as per maker’s instructions.
    • Verticutting/light scarifiying 2x month (single pass) to avoid accumulation of pathogen harbouring thatch in the sward and upper rootzone which may lead to disease breakout.
    • Sarrel spiking 1 x month to maintain irrigation efficiency and reduce water wastage.
    • Wetting agent application 1 x month – to combat rootzone hydrophobicity and reduce water wastage.
    • Fertiliser – Fertiliser – site dependent, but generally in March/April use an ammonium nitrate based cold temperature functioning “Cold Start” treatment.  Routine spring/summer fertiliser: ideally a liquid feed urea based (12-20% N content) applied monthly with wetting agent OR a spring/summer minigranular fertiliser e.g. 11:5:5 applied at 25-30g/m2.
    • Significant pest or disease management.
    • Irrigation – as little as possible.

    Note: The above list can be reduced further, but this will lead to a reduction in ability to recover green after Lock Down is lifted and may lead to longer term issues and costs accumulating.

    Cricket Tables, Grass Tennis Courts, Croquet Lawns.

    • Mowing - can be completed one occasion per week at 12-15mm, clippings removed.
    • Growth retardant – apply trinexapac-ethyl as per maker’s instructions.
    • Verticutting/light scarifiying 1x month to avoid accumulation of pathogen harbouring thatch in the sward and upper rootzone which may lead to disease breakout.
    • Fertiliser – Apply as needed to maintain turf condition and health which is ideally site and surface specific. As a basic recommendation products mentioned for the bowling green (see above) would suffice or use minigranular 11:5:5 spring/summer fertiliser applied at 30-35g/m2.
    • Significant pest/disease management.

    Cricket Outfields, football pitches, rugby pitches, grass hockey pitches, polo pitches, etc.

    • Mowing - can be completed at 20-50mm one occasion per week, height dependent on sport.
    • Due to the timing of lockdown winter pitches are in need of renovation, but this is unlikely to be possible as a full process.  If stocks are already held of grass seed this should be drill seeded into pitches to ensure they are in optimal condition for the start of next playing season.  If this is not possible stocks of seed should be placed in a cool, dry environment for use at a later date.
    • Growth retardant – apply trinexapac-ethyl as per maker’s instructions (optional).
    • Fertiliser – Apply as needed to maintain turf condition and health.  This should ideally be site and surface specific. As basic recommendation products mentioned use a 5-6 month controlled release fertiliser between 18-28% nitrogen content e.g. PolyPro/PolyPro SK, Sierrablen, Multigreen, Polyon or similar or use minigranular 12:6:6 spring/summer fertiliser applied at 30-35g/m2.

    Essential Maintenance – Site Hardware

    • Irrigation system spring preparation is essential in our opinion, as are repairs to such systems.
    • All machinery must be maintained in a safe, fully functioning condition and be fit for purpose.

    Non- essential works

    • All other areas are non-essential unless a significant Health and Safety risk is identified (bearing in mind the facility is closed therefore risk exposure must be relevant).  Consider including landscape areas where long grass may impair vision at a road junction or site entrance for example.
    • Typical maintenance e.g. aeration, topdressing, application of supplements e.g. seaweed, etc., Practice areas (excluding practice greens), ditches, bunkers, etc., are considered non-essential.
    • Spaying is recommended as a labour effective way of undertaking several tasks at once including wetting agent and fertiliser application although this may draw comment since it is a very visible activity.
    • If disease or pest spraying is undertaken PPE involved in pesticide use must be sanitised and/or disposed of after use and, if retained, only used by one operator thereafter.


    Please note that advice is compiled with the best information the author has available and utilising both Agronomic, Biological science and Business Management perspective alongside current Government advice on Covid19.  This is not an absolute guide to safe working practice around Covid19 and further Government and Health Service sources should be engaged to confirm best practice.

    Sports Turf Consulting Ltd will be very pleased to help facilities get back on their feet after lockdown aiming to optimise recovery and restoration to normal playing conditions and contribute to the business survival of their facilities.  If you have any questions please contact me on my mobile 07739 505862.

    Noel MacKenzie B.Sc.(Hons), MBPR, RIPTA. 
    Director and Principal Consultant

    Date: 30.3.2020

    Sports Turf Assessment, Planning, Maintenance and Management