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Sustainability in sports: Greening the grounds

More and more grounds professionals are recognising their role in environmental responsibility by implementing eco-friendly practices and working to reduce carbon footprints.  

Maintaining turf quality during extreme weather while reducing inorganic fertiliser inputs to mitigate environmental impact presents a challenge.  

Germinal Amenity Director Richard Brown is here with advice to bring sports and sustainability together effectively – find out more below. 

Choose sustainable grass species

Perennial ryegrass is the dominant species on UK sports pitches, known for its durability and suitability to the local climate. Quick and reliable establishment during renovations is complemented by an ability to thrive in autumn and winter. 

Perennial ryegrass does have its challenges, notably high requirements for nitrogen and water. But it is important to note that alternative species such as tall fescue and smooth stalked meadow grass also demand significant nitrogen inputs to maintain acceptable turf conditions under intense use.  

While tall fescue offers better drought tolerance, it struggles for turf quality in winter, when performance is vital. With grass species, there's no one-size-fits-all solution for creating resilient sports pitches that require minimal nitrogen or moisture. Instead, the focus should be on managing perennial ryegrass in the most sustainable manner possible. 

All things considered, we recommend A20 Premier Ryesport as our top sports mixture. With a blend of four top-performing perennial ryegrass species, A20 delivers excellent fineness of leaf, a good cleanness of cut and a dense sward that’s exceptionally easy to mow. 

Reducing grass stress

Minimising stress on grass is essential and the lifespan of football and rugby fields can be significantly extended by relocating training sessions to peripheral areas and avoiding activities that wear down the main pitch.  

Peripheral spaces, like designated zones for rugby lineout training, can be used with minimal set up. Basic markings for try and touch lines and space for drills ensure effective training while preserving the pitch. 

Implementing these changes requires the cooperation of all involved at the sports facility. Clearly communicating the reasons behind these adjustments fosters understanding and support for the need for sustainability in sports. 

Overseeding for sustainable sports maintenance

Perennial ryegrass, despite its higher input requirements, is a more sustainable option compared to many weed grasses that encroach upon tired playing surfaces.  

This realisation echoes a trend observed in the golf sector, where regular overseeding has effectively prevented the dominance of Poa annua. By promoting the growth of favourable grass species, turf managers can reduce overall inputs and effectively outcompete invasive weed grasses, resulting in a more playable and sustainable sports surface. 

The same principle applies to sports pitches. Surfaces dominated by weed grasses demand more nitrogen for maintenance and are more susceptible to wear and tear during play. Managing sports pitches with a predominant presence of perennial ryegrass promotes quicker recovery and reduces wear, aligning with sustainability in sports. 

Routine renovations in May should become standard practice, with an additional focus on high-wear areas like touchlines and goal mouths if necessary.  

Overseeding should also extend beyond spring. Perennial ryegrass can germinate at soil temperatures as low as 7°C, allowing for successful overseeding in autumn and even into winter.  

Consistent overseeding ensures the long-term health and resilience of sport pitches 

Environmentally friendly fertilisation practices

The choice of fertiliser plays a significant role in practicing environmental sustainability in sports.  

Compound fertilisers are water soluble, releasing nutrient content into the soil water for plant uptake.

However, even during periods of vigorous grass growth, not all the nitrogen (N) released from these fertilisers is utilised by the plants. Up to 60% of the nitrogen can leach out or be emitted as nitrous oxide, posing an environmental challenge.  

Opting for slow-release and controlled-release fertilisers minimises environmental impact while promoting healthier plant growth, fostering sustainable pitch management. 

Each fertiliser operates differently, but they all provide nitrogen to plants gradually over 10 to 20 weeks. The gradual release prevents sudden surges of nitrogen from evaporating or leaching away.

This allows for a higher concentration of nitrogen in each granule, reducing the need for frequent applications, saving time, money and lowering the carbon footprint.

With this method, strong and healthy plants are less susceptible to stress and weed invasion, contributing to more resilient and sustainable pitches. You can find out more about types of granular fertilisers here.

GSR Tri-Phase fertiliser is the recommended option for providing a consistent release of nitrogen and potash over five months. 

Sports and sustainability advice

Contact our experts today to discuss why sustainability in sports matters and how these best practices can benefit your pitches.