Tottenham Hotspur FC is encouraging biodiversity on a scale unmatched in the Premier League, Greg Rhodes discovers
Could sport be the great connector between the sweeping landscapes of our treasured estates and the humblest back garden? Viewing the landscaping enterprises at Tottenham Hotspur FC, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
The club’s stadium and training centre sites both boast prime examples of natural environments shaped to nurture biodiversity and sustainable practices that stand up as exemplars in the footballing fraternity.
How many clubs, Premier League or community, include great crested newt ponds among their settings? Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre (THTC) does, two of them in fact, among a host of other advances to enhance sustainability, unveiled in 2016.
Since the THTC opened in 2011, grounds manager Nick Phillips has seen the landscaping vision roll out across the 90-acre centre, a stone’s throw from the A10 near Enfield, first as head groundsman and, since 2020, as grounds manager.
The scale of management – 32 grounds staff and gardeners, (a team of 16 each) gives some insight into the complexity of what is a sporting, horticultural and amenity centre of excellence.
“Sportsturf construction is my bread and butter, but we wanted to come away from dedicated pitchcare so divided the department into landscaping and turf
specialties [the latter tending the 17 grass and hybrid pitches],” he explains.
The THTC is well protected from unwanted wildlife intrusions. “A secure perimeter mesh fencing keeps out badgers and moles, which might damage sensitive areas,” Nick says, “and we’ve allowed the laurel hedge lining the centre to grow up to further shield the site.”
Meanwhile, the organic vegetable garden and mini orchard supply fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables to the first team restaurant, using sustainable practices.
Players are picking up on the theme too. “Eric Dyer has started growing his own vegetables in his organic garden at home,” Nick reveals, a trend that’ll surely spread across the club and beyond.
The centre functions as both a day destination and stopover for wildlife, which can choose from 20 bug hotels, installed in 2015 to bolster biodiversity. They certainly offer five-star accommodation for the blue tits, bees, wasps and ladybirds populating the site.
“We preserved the existing bat run, installed boxes for them and sustained and enhanced the hedge line to preserve their territory,” says Nick, adding: “stockpiled fallen trees provide log piles for natural habitats for worms and insects, further increasing biodiversity.”
Water management features prominently, with pitch irrigation fed by two, 100m deep boreholes drilled into the underground aquifer. Drainage chambers underneath the sports surfaces collect excess irrigation and rainwater, which is then filtered and reapplied.
“The tanks are pH tested (to measure acidity) three times a year to ensure we retain correct chemical balance before irrigating,” Nick explains. “Pop up sprinklers fitted in the landscaped areas allow us to control the quantity of water we apply. We prefer a pH of 5-6 where possible.”
The team upgraded the Hunter irrigation system two years ago, with a software package enabling them to actuate sprinklers from mobile devices.
Green waste reuse
Also, a grey water recovery system channels excess drainage water back to the irrigation tanks for reuse, Nick adds.
Waste is a dirty word at Spurs. “Nothing goes to landfill,” Nick confirms. “The large volume of grass cuttings we generate passes to a registered recycling centre for turning it into compost.
“We reuse all green waste generated from the second pass of korrowing when the pitches are renovated, stockpiling it before applying to improve soil on the landscaped areas. These include an extensive rockery surrounding the French Garden, planted up with alpines, herbaceous borders containing mixed native shrubs and drought tolerant species, and a wildflower meadow.”
The team test all soils before applying them and create a range of different organic mulches and coarse and fine bark.
Academy provision requires a nod to artificial pitches and Nick is currently looking into more sustainable infill for the two at THTC.
“We want to replace rubber crumb with recycled materials and there are several options available,” he says.
It almost goes without saying that Spurs are on the drive to electric tools and machinery. “Our Toro fairway mowers are hybrids, the hand mowers are electric, as is our Workman and the hand tools,” Nick says. “It all helps reduce noise and air pollution across the site.”
Helping reduce reliance on the grid are solar panels fitted to the training centre, while green roofs on the main building and lodge further boost biodiversity and eco-friendliness, Nick adds.
The stadium construction sparked implementation of landscaping around the venue and existing buildings now used as offices. “A couple of the landscaping team move between the two sites,” says Nick, “to ensure we encourage biodiversity and sustainability there too.”
Back at the stadium, head groundsman/deputy grounds manager Gary Lee, who is part of a team of six plus a dedicated gardener tend a biodiverse landscape to complement that at the THTC.
Softening hard exteriors is a living wall outside the ticket office and a roof garden on Lillywhite House, complete with seating areas and raised beds, screened with laurels and silver birches.
“A secret garden,” Gary dubs it and one to put you in mind of perhaps its most renowned counterpart atop the old Derry and Tom’s department store in central London, better know today as Kensington Roof Gardens.
“As a club we take pride in our landscaping, horticulture and aesthetics,” Gary reveals, “our dedicated gardener Morgan Brown is eager to maintain the quality of the environment. Upkeep is now managed in house to help deliver highest possible environmental standards across the property.
“The club has always been considerate of biodiversity and sustainability,” Gary points out, “and set up a task force across all departments to input ideas on what we could introduce on site to encourage it.” Kestrels and sparrow hawks have been regular visitors to the ground, he says, a firm indicator of wildlife diversity.
Rainwater harvesting in the grounds sector is starting to catch up with Europe, says Gary, who explains that the stadium site is planning to complete it in the next year to two years, with five attenuation tanks around the stadium storing rain falling on the site’s rooftops.
Liquid passing through the hybrid turf carpet match pitch flows into a large tank underneath the surface, remaining isolated from any watercourse, Gary explains, before being treated prior to reusing it for irrigation.
“Nutrient input will always be high for a sand pitch but the sector is under pressure to reduce nitrogen, pesticide and fungicide application. We test the soil regularly to help us apply only what we need. It’s a more refined way to manage use through the season.”
When the turf carpet is ripped off for renovation, contractor Hewitts separate the root zone and reinforcement, ready for sustainable disposal. In a further move to reduce the club’s carbon footprint, Gary is exploring switching HPS bulbs in the growlighting for LED equivalents.
“Our carbon neutral fund allows us to implement such changes, including tree planting to offset third party events,” he says.
- Nick and Gary will be discussing how Tottenham Hotspur FC promotes biodiversity at this year’s Learning Live, SALTEX in Theatre 1, Weds 1 Nov from 12.15 – 12.45pm
Landscaping around the Lodge at Tottenham’s training ground
Roof garden on Lillywhite House at Tottenham’s main stadium