Drainage Contractor

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U.K. Update: An opportune problem

Is there a silver lining to climate change for contractors?

May 7, 2014  By Rob Burtonshaw

The last time I wrote a column for Drainage Contractor, I thought the weather was so unusual and such a talking point that I could not write about anything else. Yet again, this thought occurs to me: we have had record rainfall levels here in the U.K., and I have read about the chilling weather inflicted on those in North America. However, as this would soon become the dullest part of the magazine if I just gave a weather report, I will resist the temptation. Regardless of what is causing the changes, I doubt many in Britain would disagree that something strange is going on. Every couple of months the headlines report weather records being broken or set. This might be a blip or a pattern, but the weather is headline news like never before, and many believe climate change is the cause. I believe that drainage contractors should greet it as an opportunity.

The environment and the ever-growing green movement has been one of the most significant political developments in the last 40 years, and I can’t see the subject disappearing anytime soon. All businesses in all sectors are (or will be) affected, and drainage contractors are no exception. Rather than fight or ignore this trend, this is a chance to improve our services and raise the profile of the industry. I’m convinced it is pointless and wrong to ignore the fact that nitrates use drainage outlets as a conduit to enter the watercourse. Instead, we need to promote what can be done to mitigate this side effect of agriculture and offer a proactive answer; we need to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

Luckily for us, there are proven ways of solving the problem. I suspect that most people reading this will understand and know about conservation drainage and have seen drainage water management and denitrifying bioreactors in action. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days with Richard Cooke, a professor at Illinois State University, who took the time to show and explain his experiments and field trials focused on conservation drainage. I will make the declaration that I’m a big fan, so much so that I have developed a plan to install a bioreactor here in Warwickshire – in fact, by the time you read this, it might be in the ground already, as we have a keen land owner and progress has been made in terms of funding for its installation. As far as I’m aware, it will be the first in Europe, and although it’s a tiny little device compared to Richard’s efforts, it’s an exciting project. It is early days, but if the concept is proven to work in British conditions (and I have high hopes that it will), many more could be installed.

It feels good to say that I’m at least trying to do my – admittedly very small – bit for the environment, but I’m not going to underplay the business element. Drainage contractors have the expertise and will be the ones to design, install and, if necessary, maintain these devices. This gives us another product to sell, often to a different client. We are always going to make the vast majority of our money by putting pipe in the ground, but promotion of our business and services is a huge part of the business. We need to spread a positive message about drainage. We know that it is a great service, and that the higher yields drainage provides are of great service to humanity, but others don’t.


Local and national press are always keen on environmental stories. Conservation drainage is probably our best tool to promote drainage – not only to farmers, but also to the wider public – and this should not be underestimated. Public opinion can have a powerful effect, and the use of social media allows us to get our message out to the public both economically and effectively. Adopting conservation drainage is a win-win for drainage contractors. We should all embrace the ideas, learn the techniques and start putting them in the ground.

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