The word integrated has become very popular of late in government circles and certainly at DEFRA; not as much as BREXIT though but that is a whole different story. In tackling the management of amenity spaces and turf, we are all asked to take an integrated approach and deliver plans to do so. But what does it all mean?
Back to Basics
The answer is simple to say but perhaps less so to implement. It is about getting back to basic principles of good husbandry; not focussing on one solution but, by good understanding and management, creating an environment to minimise weed, disease and pest challenges. The range of chemical solutions available in amenity is sadly diminishing and whilst they will remain an important element in the mix, they need to be part of a complete programme of appropriate grass seed selection, continuing management and understanding soil biology and the important interaction of organisms within it. There are many innovative solutions emerging including biological control but all of these need applying within the total approach of integrated methods and an emphasis on preventative approaches.
Producing and implementing an integrated management plan is not easy. There is no solution that fits all, no common jigsaw puzzle template. The author of this article recently attended a conference focussed upon controlling the effects of chafer and leatherjackets. There were excellent speakers and much to digest. However what was clear was that there is no simple solution and much to learn in deciding upon the right approach for a particular situation.
No silver bullet
Let us be clear, integrated does not mean, no use of chemicals, far from it. However it requires careful thought on the level of control sought and how best to achieve it. It requires a balanced approach. There can be no magical solution. Everyone is seeking a magical solution, yet virtually everyone does not really believe in magic. The magician prepares thoroughly for his or her act and ensures every element is considered and fully prepared and practices thoroughly; this is the same in an integrated approach to disease management.
The approach is one where the outcome required is clearly defined and then all the options available are considered. The emphasis on preventative management requires a fully integrated approach and taking advantage of the rapidly increasing availability of new technology. It certainly is far from easy and brings many challenges but is the way ahead.
Preparing an integrated management plan
The Forum, with partners, is preparing a comprehensive toolkit which can be used by all involved for preparing integrated management plans. We hope that this will be available later in the year. It will seek to provide a valuable guide for practitioners and decision makers, meeting the challenges of maintaining high quality turf areas. The Forum already has a number of useful guidance notes available on its website.
There is a need for communication within the sector to increase understanding, and especially to owners of sports facilities and members who use them. Golfers, for example, expect the very best playing surfaces but there is a real need to increase understanding of what this involves. Those who maintain and manage sporting surfaces contribute to producing safe, healthy amenity areas fit for purpose. What happens in amenity management impacts upon every UK citizen every day. We need to take out that message – good sports surfaces require highly skilled management. There is much greater public and indeed political interest in chemicals used for amenity management and agricultural production. It is important that the amenity sector fully communicates what we do and why. Professionals working in the amenity sector only use techniques which are full proven and tested as safe. Indeed, chemicals used in weed, pest and disease control go through far more stringent authorisation processes than many other household products.
Setting the standard
After much consideration and consultation, later this year, a new national standard for amenity management is to be launched. This will be akin to the Red Tractor in food production, familiar to many when visiting food stores and supermarkets. Holding the Amenity Standard and displaying the logo will show to all that the amenity areas within that area are managed professionally and are safe and healthy, fit for purpose. It is not another assurance scheme but in order to display and hold the Standard, those operating at the sports or amenity facility will need to demonstrate their competence and, as such, will likely be part of a recognised assurance scheme.
Displaying the logo and hence holding the Standard will give confidence to those who employ them and the public that what is being done is fully compliant with regulations and be sure of safe, healthy amenity spaces fit for purpose. Adoption of the Standard will not happen overnight but it seen as a very important step if we are to continue to be able to do our job and retain our enviable reputation for producing and maintaining quality sports areas. We would wish to see the Standard displayed with pride at public and sporting venues, a clear commitment to driving up standards and providing reassurance and trust in those who use our facilities.
Our aim is to launch the new Standard at our conference and exhibition on October 10th at the Pirelli Stadium at Burton on Trent. This conference has become a very much ‘must attend’ for all involved in or with an interest in amenity management. This year the theme is ‘21st Century Management’ , very much that of this article, and is set to be the best yet with some excellent speakers and exhibitors. Further information is available on our website. The Forum also holds free Updating Events across the UK at the start of each year. Video clips of the various presentations in 2019 are available on the Amenity Forum YouTube page.
Amenity management is certainly challenging but that has always been so. It is how we grasp the new opportunities and combine these with our expertise and experience of good husbandry that really matters. Integrated approaches are not really new but certainly the way ahead.