Angus Lindsay considers the future of landscaping maintenance, and whether a more natural approach could be beneficial.
What does 2018 hold for our industry? With Brexit looming there will undoubtedly be a knock-on effect, which we will feel in the form of
further price increases on everything from strimmer cord to rootstock. Labour, as we know, is a constant headache, but could this be further
exacerbated through the loss of practical and management skills, from people moving elsewhere in search of new opportunities as a
result of future uncertainty?
If we look back over the last 12 months we have seen significant changes, with businesses downsizing or failing to weather the financial
rough seas and going into administration.
Machinery and vehicle suppliers and manufacturers have not been immune to these uncertain times, with businesses being taken
over and product import changing hands – most notably with Peugeot acquiring Vauxhall, and Textron relinquishing Iseki supply in the UK.
This, along with tougher emissions regulations, means manufacturers are having a tough time of it; no wonder prices are constantly going up. On the environmental front, the push to reduce fossil fuels and chemicals is seeing the simple task of keeping paths and gutters clear of weeds and debris becoming a major and costly challenge.
Two decades ago we languished in cutting cycles of 18-20 cuts per annum, when parks and housing were the playground for the cylinder mower, and the flail was something brought out for clearing virgin land or rural verges. Now, in some environments, flail mowing is the norm
for open spaces and housing verges, with cut/collect seen as a realistic way of reducing arisings for housing associations. Fine on realistic frequencies, but not on a three-week regime – that’s close to silage production! I have previously talked about budget squeezes that
lead to reduced frequencies and a lack of regular turf maintenance, which nowadays are a necessary evil, but the end result is far from
pretty and will have long lasting effects on the health of the grass sward.
And what of the people who design, build and maintain the landscape that keeps us employed and gives the public a place to relax and a green environment in which to live? Could future economic pressures dictate that our amenity becomes more minimal, with greater use of easy to maintain hard surfaces, artificial grass, flower beds in moveable trays and potted trees which allow a landscape to change overnight? Artificial intelligence and robotics are an ever-increasing part of our lives whether we like it or not. Self-driving cars are just the start; how long will it be before the diminutive robotic mower becomes a commercial field scale alternative to the tractor and gang?
We should also consider how we tender for and award work; cheapest is very rarely the best value option for either party. Procurement departments may prioritise how much they can save over how the job will be delivered during the term of the contract. This rarely results in a long term sustainable relationship and, if you are not careful when tendering for a job, it can become a race to the bottom with your competitors, which can have costly and long lasting consequences.
Maybe, in a world increasingly reliant on technology, we need to look at things differently, and go back to nature to employ a simpler form of
maintenance – such as by grazing livestock. Not suitable for sports pitches, I appreciate, as sheep don’t understand the offside rule, and while cows are good in the scrum they’re no good in line-outs – but worth considering for parkland?
Angus’s blog article is also published in the January 2018 issue of Pro Landscaper magazine.