An emergency ‘Drought Summit’, called this week by the government’s land resources agency, Defra, has highlighted the perilous state of the UK’s water reserves.
Large parts of England are already experiencing drought conditions, with forecasters warning that it is likely to continue into the summer.
For turf managers in much of England, especially the south, there is the very real prospect of water restrictions on irrigation resources. Many golf courses have already had restrictions imposed on existing abstraction licenses that would normally now be filling reservoirs ready for the summer.
Water companies in affected areas are now expected to file for emergency drought orders and drought permits that will impose further restrictions on water use. Secretary of State for Agriculture and the Environment Caroline Spellman said: “We have had the second dry winter in a row. I think that it is more likely that the public water supply will be affected, unless we have substantial rainfall between now and the summer.”
Inevitably the availability of water to golf courses is going to be turned off long before supplies to homes are cut. Syngenta technical manager Dr Simon Watson, believes using available irrigation water more efficiently and ensuring plants can make the best possible use of rainfall will be essential for turf managers to maintain high quality playing surfaces this summer.
“An effective water conservation programme will be imperative, and possibly extended across wider areas of the course than has been considered in previous seasons,” he said. “Courses that may have got by with heavy watering schedules in the past, will now need to look at better management of resources.”
Dr Watson reports that user trials with the new wetting agent Qualibra has demonstrated its value for water conservation and shown it is possible to significantly reduce irrigation requirements, while still improving turf quality and appearance for players.
“The best results with irrigation can be achieved by applying a higher volume less frequently, compared to the little and often approach – providing the water is not simply lost through the soil profile. However, in the past, greenkeepers have been reticent to adopt this strategy if there was a risk of leaving the surface too soft.
At Ganton Golf Club near Scarborough, the dry east coast location and sandy soils make it one of Britain’s most hydrophobic golf courses. In trials conducted last year, head greenkeeper Philip Baldock says he saw a significant improvement in turf quality from Qualibra treatments.
“The fairways I chose for the trial were ones that had varying susceptibility to Dry Patch; one very much so, one moderately, and another where the problem was less pronounced,” he said. “I wanted to see if it was effective in all cases. All the treated turf was noticeably greener than the surrounding untreated areas. Where we had sprayed Qualibra there has been a marked and sustained improvement in sward quality. The grass looked genuinely much healthier after application and we assessed it to be in better condition than previously.”