Farm tracks are essential for access and can act as effective drainage systems for field run off. James Cullimore takes a look at what can be done to maintain them

Found along many hedgerows and originally planned only to carry one man and his ox, the humble farm track is perhaps not best suited to today’s big kit.

Intensive rainfall and bigger, heavier machinery can cause severe damage. Rough farm roadways often become neglected due to the lack of time or cost to repair them. But simple things can be done and recent advances in machinery mean repairing farm tracks need not be so costly.

What’s the cost?

Having to bump over rough, potholed tracks is no fun for driver or machinery, even with today’s tractor suspension systems. Poorly maintained farm tracks not only increase vehicle wear and tear, but also slow haulage operations.

The change in weather patterns over recent years has seen more rain falling over shorter periods of time, with the consequence that soil erosion is becoming more of an issue. Not only does this mean soil is washed away, but nutrients and valuable soil-borne chemicals are also lost.

Costs

Farm tracks 
• Crush, level and compact – £1.50-£2/sq m.
• Crush, level and compact incorporating concrete –
£7-£8/sq m.
Concrete pads
• Crush, level and compact with laser-levelling equipment incorporating concrete
£10-£12/sq m.
Concrete delivered
• £77/sq m within a 10-mile radius of the cement plant.
Prices are approximate, with day rates available

Cutting the run-off of nutrients prevents serious disruptions to the ecological balance of a watercourse.

The Highways and Environment Agencies is able to prosecute and impose fines if excess soil is deposited on roads or in rivers.

So what can be done?

The key to maintaining a track is to keep it dry and firm and sort out any problems as soon as they arise.

Fast flowing water on long lengths of a track has the potential to cause significant damage. Diverting water from the track to the ditch can be done in a number of ways.

• Add a camber to the track allowing water to flow into the ditch.

• If cambering is not possible add sleeping policeman to divert water. These need not be too big, just high enough to divert the water.

• Swales – channels cut into the verge – divert water into the ditch. Add as many large swales as possible without creating a hole that will swallow the tractor when it comes to hedge-trimming time.

• Consider relocating tracks or gateways with known problems. When constructing new tracks, check with planners and try to avoid discharging water to land that is prone to erosion.

Reuse what’s there.

Contracting companies now offer road reclamation services, crushing aggregates that are already in place. This reduces the need of expensive new stone, although rubble can be added and crushed if needed.

The track is first cleaned, removing any excess soil. Next the crushing machine grinds the existing road material. This monster over-sized rotovator is able to chomp through all types of material from tarmac to concrete blocks. Working depths of up to 300mm (1ft) are possible.

But running just below the pothole level is all that is needed to avoid disturbing the foundations of the track. A grader-blade then levels the crushed stone leaving a camber in the track if needed. Lastly, the surface is compacted using a vibrating roller or multi-plate “wacker-rig”.

Adding cement

Cement can be incorporated into the process to leave a concrete finish.

Considerable savings are possible using this method compared with buying in concrete (see costings table).

This method also saves the hassle of setting up and taking down shuttering. Extra stone may be needed on soft ground to provide a good base to the track if movement and cracking is to be avoided.

In a day, 1200m can be crushed, levelled and compacted. When adding concrete the workrate drops to 600m.

What else can be built or maintained in this way?

It’s not just tracks that can be stabilised. Laser levelling equipment fitted to tractors means green waste pads can also be built using this method. Building silage pits is another avenue that is being explored, if it can be shown that the concrete pad is able to contain effluent.

Grants available

Launched on the 1 April, the Capital Grants Scheme will provide funding for opportunities to install facilities that benefit water quality by reducing diffuse pollution. This scheme will vary between different counties and exact details have not been released yet. But it is thought it will include grants for options such as:

• Cross drains under farm tracks.

• Swales with check dams.

• Installation of culverts into ditches.

• Resurfacing or relocating gateways.

• Sediment ponds and traps.

Contacts

  • Catchment Sensitive Farming – http://www.defra.gov.uk/farm/environment/water/csf/
  • MP & KM Golding, Road Reclamation Services – 01749 870 583