Loughborough University
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Sustainable drainage of sports pitches

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posted on 2016-02-17, 10:49 authored by Murray R. Simpson
The drainage behaviour of sports pitches is not well understood nor has performance been measured in the past. Within planning authorities there is a perceived contribution of pitch water discharge to local flood risk; whereby all the rainfall surface runoff is rapidly channelled through the drainage system to the pitch outfall. However, empirical evidence from industry suggested that this may not be a realistic assumption from observations of low drainage volumes yielded from pitch drainage systems. Furthermore, discharge constraints imposed have in many cases resulted in grossly over-designed off-line drainage attenuation systems for new sports developments through lack of understanding. In contrast, sports pitches indeed have the potential to enhance the attenuation performance of the subsoils and provide localised effective management of surface water runoff, and a significant storage volume if designed appropriately The findings in this thesis confirm that pitch bases demonstrate the key functions that are in fact reflected in the design requirements of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SuDS). This PhD research project was conducted to investigate and document the performance of common pitch construction and drainage systems to better characterise the key drainage mechanisms that occur and control the flow of surface rain water through the pitch to the discharge outfall. The project developed a triangulated approach to the investigations, comprising: field measurements of climate and discharge behaviour at a range of artificial and natural turf pitches in England; laboratory physical model testing of pitch component hydraulics; and predictive mathematical modelling of how a pitch system may be expected to perform hydraulically based on key material and system drainage principles. The field monitoring systems were developed as part of the research, as was bespoke laboratory physical simulation of a pitch construction. It was found that very variable yields (% out versus % in) of water were detected from the monitored field sites. The values varied across a range of <1 to 88%, with the natural turf providing higher yields in general. The antecedent weather patterns did not show a clear relationship with yield as might have been expected. However, it was not always possible to retrieve detailed information on the subsoil conditions or hydraulic capability reducing the conclusiveness of the discharge flow measurements. The scaled laboratory testing of pitch materials established the importance and magnitude of barriers to percolation of surface water through the layers of the pitch constructions, in particular artificial pitch profiles. It was found that a significant proportion of the total rainfall head was required to instigate percolation of surface water through the carpet and into the pitch i.e. breakthrough head. In addition, several constituent pitch materials exhibited water retention characteristics that reduced that rate of free percolation of surface water through the pitch profile. The net impact is to reduce the net available head of water to further drive flow through the layers to the pipe network drainage system. A conceptual hydraulic model, developed from the literature, was further developed into a simple numerical model. The model was informed by parameters determined from the laboratory measurements and key groundwater drainage flow theory to attempt to replicate a pitch drainage system. It was envisaged that the models would be validated by the field data, although this proved challenging as a result of the field data variability and the multivariate nature of the influences on flows measured. A key finding of the modelling was further establishing the likely head of water generated at the interfaces between the bottom of the granular sub-base and the pipe collection drainage system beneath. This resulted in limited pipe infiltration and low total flows to the outfall, further corroborating the project field results and the anecdotal observations from practitioners. The combined unique data sets provide a refined model for sports pitch drainage to both reinforce understanding and inform practical design and operation.


Loughborough University, Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) and Sport England (SE)



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering


Loughborough University

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© Murray Simpson

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Publication date



A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


  • en


Paul Fleming ; Matthew Frost

Qualification name

  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral