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Wimbledon pioneers silent approach to lawn mowing

A lawn mower readies the grass courts before the Wimbledon Fortnight.
by Sarah Edworthy
Tuesday 26 June 2012

If you go down to No.2 Court early in the morning, you’re sure of a
big surprise. You will see a man pushing a lawn mower with standard
blades, back and front rollers, happily trimming the prized grass to
its requisite 8mm height in absolute silence. Never mind the sound of
leather on willow, the sound of summer in London SW19 is the mosquito
buzz of mowers creating immaculate lawns. So, what is going on?

Some sleuthing reveals Neil Stubley, Head Groundsman designate, is
overseeing the trial of a new ‘no petrol, no oil, no emissions’
battery-powered Toro Mower on that one court as part of the All
England Club’s environmental business practice policy. “It is The
AELTC policy to seriously consider our carbon footprint and take into
account the environmental impact of everything we do,” Neil said –
“and going electric has other advantages, too. During the run-up to
The Championships we are often told to stop mowing because the noise
is disturbing a media or promotional event, so a switch to electric
will mean we will always be able to carry on with our work
regardless.”

The electric mower looks exactly the same as a petrol-fuelled model,
it’s just the mode of generating power that is different. A large
lithium battery sits where a petrol tank is traditionally positioned.
The battery has a six-hour life and can be fully re-charged overnight.
Electric mowing is just one aspect of eco-friendliness that the
ground staff are embracing. Eddie Seaward, who has been Head
Groundsman since 1991, has often talked about working to a three-year
cycle: analysis of the courts from the previous year feeds into the
nurturing of the current year’s grass and into planning for the
following year.

Eddie and his team are not just concerned with the
condition of the grass being primed for a forthcoming Championships,
they are considering big-picture issues such as water and irrigation
and its management in relation to grass. For example, filtered water
of the right pH scale is needed to maintain the health and purity of the
Wimbledon grass. “I am very aware that water is becoming more and more
of a valuable commodity and we are constantly thinking of the most
effective ways to utilise and monitor our water use and not to waste
it,” he said.

The reality is that the ground staff are not so much gardeners but
horticultural scientists mindful of air flow, light levels, humidity,
ground temperatures and so on. To manicure a living herbaceous plant
into an immaculate world-class playing surface, at precisely the right
time each year, is an ever-evolving scientific task. Traditionally
this has involved fertilisers, growth retardants and fungicides, the
use of which is constantly under review. The courts are now sown with
100 per cent Perennial Ryegrass to improve durability and strengthen
the sward to withstand the increasing wear of the modern game, rather
than the previous 70 per cent rye/30 per cent creeping red fescue.
“We are always looking at grass species that are drought tolerant and
disease resistant. Weed grasses, for example, are nutrient hungry and
not really pest-resistant,” Neil explains.

“Our fertiliser pesticide usage has gone down 50 per cent in the last
few years. People ask why we don’t use organic fertilisers, but you
can’t control their effect as well as a chemical fertiliser. We need
to be fully in control of how we are tending the grass. We are always
looking at our carbon footprint, but we can’t afford to compromise the
ultimate goal of creating a world-class playing surface.”


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