Monday, 15 September 2014 00:00

The Future of Land Drainage

Written by  Laura Harrison
Rate this item
(0 votes)
The Future of Land Drainage

Within the UK land drainage has markedly decreased in recent years, this is partially  due to a surge in land drainage investment when there was government funding available (in the 80s) and slow loss of interest when funding was no longer available.

A recent report by Rob Burtonshaw assessed the current standing land drainage in the UK and explored the progress of the industry worldwide, looking at the best techniques and technologies in the field:

Monitoring the effect of land drainage

It is possible that part of the reason behind land drainage being less widely invested in the UK is that the benefits of land drainage are not being scientifically recorded in the UK. There is a general awareness of the benefits of land drainage – that it can increase yields etc.

The head of William Morfoot, land drainage experts in Norfolk, discusses the importance of return on investment (ROI) and the latest technology for farmers saying; “With demand on today’s farmers and growers to optimise their returns, the requirement for land to be productive and farmable with high capacity machinery is greater now than ever before”.

However the extent to which land drainage increases yields and offers ROI is not well documented and therefore probably leads to a lower enthusiasm for investment.

In Burtonshaw’s research he found that field mapping and monitoring is a more common practice in Canada, he looked specifically at Ontario. A study of yield mapping over 20 years in this area demonstrated power of land drainage. Fields that had proper land drainage had significantly higher yields compared to those that did not, for instance land drainage resulted in a 29% increase in corn yield and a 38% increase in wheat. Whilst it cannot be assumed that these results are directly transferable to the UK (due to the soil type differences) it does provide evidence that proper land drainage really does offer return on investment.

With such demand on farmers to offer ROI, Rob Burtonshaw looked into how new technologies in land drainage could help to save farmers money:

Trenchless Drainage Installation

In the UK, the general practice when installing land drainage systems is to use a chain trencher which creates an open trench. However, the dominant method within the USA is trenchless installation – the piping is ploughed into the land. The advantage of a trenchless machine is it makes installation a lot faster increasing production and decreasing costs. The problem is that the upfront cost of a trenchless machine is large and there is a lack of current demand for their type of use (they are larger and less versatile compared to chain trenching machines). So, in theory if a land drainage company was given the right type of work (large agricultural fields), using a trenchless installation machine could be beneficial and save money.

Recycled Aggregates

An easy place for land drainage costs to be cut is permeable fill. Permeable fill is necessary in UK land drainage systems because the soil lacks sufficient permeability and therefore permeable fill is used to help the water reach the pipe through the soil. If recycled permeable fill (crushed concrete and stone) was utilised it could cut permeable fill costs by 15%.

GPS Grade Control

Since the 1980s the principal method for ensuring drainage is installed at the most suitable level has been laser grade control. This is a very accurate method but involves a little bit of hassle of adjusting the laser tripod occasionally.

In the United States of America, GPS grade control is now the norm, although it hasn’t yet been fully embraced in Europe. GPS grade control offers advantages in comparison to laser grade control systems; GPS grade control machinery needs little to no alteration once it is set up and it automatically calculates the grade adjustment needed for every metre of land. With the laser grade control these adjustments had to be calculated by hand and were generally less accurate because it was quicker to make as few adjustments as possible so it was often laid deeper than necessary – leading to elevated costs.

GPS grade control allows for the optimum grade to be instantly calculated on a smaller and thus more accurate scale - this increased accuracy could end up saving money in the long run.

Overall there have been several interesting developments in land drainage technology; hopefully areas in the UK will start to take advantage of them and thus save money and help our farming industry grow. 

For more details please see

Last modified on Thursday, 25 February 2016 21:44

Related items

  • Wake up Call

    In 2005 Grice Chapman Publishing, a small independent Publishing House based at Burgh-Next-Aylsham received a script from a gentleman in Monmouthshire who had been trying to get his work published, his name was Ray Armstrong. Ray had seen that Grice Chapman had published books by Hugh Brandon-Cox about the Wildlife of East Anglia and hoped they would be interested in publishing his book on 25 years of keen observations of the rich diversity of wildlife in his villlage. When Ray shared over 100 wildlife photographs, many the result of many hours of patient watching and waiting in all weathers, to accompany a script with a sharp well defined focus, there was soon a book contract heading from Norfolk to Ray's letterbox!

  • Pensthorpe shortlisted for national award celebrating buildings excellence

    The spectacular transformation of five former farm workers’ cottages and the creation of a unique indoor adventure play centre at Pensthorpe Natural Park, near Fakenham, is in the running for a prestigious national award.

    Pensthorpe’s management team has been invited to the grand final of the Local Authority Building Control Awards at London’s Westminster Park Plaza in November, having won Best Inclusive Building at the East Anglian regional finals.

  • Recycled Beer Barrels are New Dog Watering Stations at Fairhaven

    Old beer barrels have been recycled to provide new dog watering stations at Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, South Walsham. Two have been set up so far, near the tearoom and down by the staithe next to Fairhaven's broad, with a third watering station coming soon.

    Visitor Peter Brough's dog, Pippa, sampled the new watering station. “It's the first time we have visited Fairhaven. We are from Brownhills in the West Midlands and have travelled over for a short break before our niece, Emma's graduation day at UEA."

  • Holt Country Park, Sadler’s Wood and Pretty Corner Woods among UK's best open spaces

    Holt Country Park, Sadler’s Wood, near North Walsham, and Pretty Corner Woods, near Sheringham, have again been named amongst the best open spaces in the UK, winning the right to fly the prestigious Green Flag for 2017/18.

    This is the thirteenth year in a row that Holt Country Park has been able to fly the Green Flag, which denotes a welcoming, safe, clean and well-managed site.

    The award demands year-on-year improvement for the status to be retained.

  • Fairhaven Garden – Common Tern Breeding Platform Success
    Nine common tern chicks, from four breeding pairs of adult birds, have hatched on the new floating breeding platform secured on Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden’s broad at South Walsham. Last year one pair bred with two chicks fledging. 
    Trevor ‘Tabs’ Taberham, volunteer wildlife warden at Fairhaven Garden explained: “Two years ago, just after I started working her, five pairs of common terns tried to breed on the island in Fairhaven broad, but greylag geese wrecked the nests. So last year, we experimented with a single standard size pallet, attached to posts that are in middle of the broad. It attracted two pairs of common terns; one pair stayed to nest, three chicks fledged, but unfortunately one was taken by a Herring gull.”