As a long-term client, the RFU contacted STRI with regard to making improvements to the standard of the pitch surface. Having experienced an extremely wet winter throughout 2000-2001, it had become apparent that the stadia’s existing drainage facilities were unable to cope sufficiently well under such extremes of weather.
New stands had been erected in the Eastern and Western areas of the stadium in the 1990s, which had changed the environmental conditions within the stadia. Future plans to redevelop the South Stand would impact upon this further, and additional facilities along with an alternative management strategy would be required going forward to ensure both the short term and long term stability of the pitch.
- To create and implement a short term option, addressing the immediate concerns of the site.
- To produce a more stable playing surface.
- To implement a strategy for the short and long term to ensure a sustainable surface, capable of withstanding all weather and promoting grass growth.
Both pipe and slit drainage systems had been installed at the stadium in the 1960s, the latter of which being a relatively new technological development at this time. As a result, Twickenham was one of the first stadia to use this technique in order to link the surface to its underlying pipe drainage. The system had worked effectively over a number of years, using a ‘home-made’ slit drainage machine to inject the sand slits when necessary. Only when changes were made to the stadia environment – by building up spectator areas around the pitch in the 1990s, causing insufficient airflow and light levels to permeate the arena – did it become apparent that an entirely new management plan was required to sustain the integrity of the surface in the long term.
STRI design and agronomic specialists visited and reported on the existing condition of the pitch, and throughout subsequent discussions with the RFU, it was established and recommended that a long term strategy to engage in a complete rebuild of the pitch would be necessary. With plans to further develop the South Stand having been earmarked for future progression of the arena, along with other non-sports uses for the arena being contemplated, it was apparent that this would lead to the creation of an extremely hostile environment in which to produce a good playing surface. It was agreed that a shorter term plan would be instigated to address immediate concerns regarding drainage, and to combat any issues arising as a result, e.g. shallow grass rooting.
Working closely with the RFU, STRI put together a proposal for works to be undertaken over a period of 1-2 years. STRI advised that the top layer of the pitch (25mm) be removed where water was concentrated and then to re-grade to ensure that surface levels were improved. To stabilise the top layer of the surface profile, a process of fibre sand reinforcement and amelioration would be undertaken in the underlying 100mm, which would also benefit the surface by reducing any potential for divots. To address inadequacies within the current drainage system, it was agreed that an entirely new pipe drainage system would be installed at the site, along with a new slit drainage system. In the intervening years since Twickenham first installed slit drainage, technological advancements had resulted in the development of specialist slit drainage machinery. The new machinery proved to be more efficient and effective, able to excavate the narrow slits being filled with suitable aggregate, producing reliable and far more predictable results, whilst ensuring less disruption to the surface.
A detailed design of the recommended drainage layout was produced utilising STRI’s in-house CAD facilities, along with a modified profile of the pitch. STRI prepared the Specification along with all construction drawings for the pitch works to be undertaken. All tender documentation was managed by STRI, and consultants drew up a list of specialist sports ground contractors, subsequently handling all tenders received back. Once work commenced, STRI monitored the construction works being undertaken and tested and approved the use of construction materials where necessary.
- Clients brief was met; the standard of the drainage and surface levels were greatly improved as an immediate result of the work undertaken.
- Following re-seeding of the pitch, grass cover within the stadia had improved significantly.
- STRI continued to support Twickenham, providing aftercare and maintenance advice.
- What had originally been deemed to be a short-term solution, has been in use for ten years.
- In preparation for the 2015 World Cup, throughout which Twickenham will play a major part, the club, along with STRI specialist consultants, is reviewing the need for a full pitch reconstruction to international standards.