9 March 2001

FIRMBUILDSONA VERGINGBERTH

Record-breaking rainfall has highlighted drainage problems on thousands of acres, but farmers are apparently in no hurry to catch up on essential maintenance work, says Cambridgeshire-based contractor, Richard Webber.

Mr Webbers main business is cutting highway verges. Throughout the spring and summer he has tractor-mounted mowers and hand-operated strimmers working on trunk roads in an area from near the M25 north of London to the outskirts of Coventry.

When Richard Webber started his business, which now employs seven people full-time and more than twice this number at peak times, in 1968 with a tractor and a hedgecutter. All his customers were farmers and there was so much demand he was soon operating three hedgecutters.

He later branched out into other equipment including direct drilling with the then fashionable Bettinson drills.

But it was the hedgecutters which took Mr Webbers company, Agriplant of Bourn, into local authority and highway work. This has now become the largest slice of his business, but farm work is still important and Mr Webber has built up a specialised maintenance service for farm ditches.

The ditching service neatly complements the verge cutting work with ditch maintenance on the mainly arable farms in East Anglia starting after harvest and continuing throughout the winter.

Use of Hydrocut tractor-mounted machines, which normally carry the mowing and grip cutting attachments for verge work, are also ideal for operating the equipment used to clear silt from the bottom of ditches and flail mowing the overgrown vegetation on ditch banks.

For cutting vegetation on ditch banks the Hydrocuts are used with a standard Bomford flail head. The other ditch maintenance service Mr Webbers company offers is removing accumulated silt and plant material from the bottom of drainage ditches, using the Klose 600 rotary cleaner made by Andrew Klose Engineering of Orwell, Royston, Herts.

The ditch cleaner is attached to the Hydrocut boom and has a hydraulic motor to turn a rotor fitted with cutting blades. It works in the bottom of the ditch, throwing the debris over the side of the ditch where it cant fall in again.

Regular maintenance with the cleaner helps to keep the ditch working efficiently says Mr Klose who adds that such operations can avoid a more expensive cleaning operation later.

"You always get an accumulation of silt or sand and vegetation in the bottom of a ditch, and this can build up and interfere with the flow of water," he explains. "Heavy rainfall tends to make the silt build up more quickly, especially under the outfalls from land drains. If this is not cleared regularly, which usually means every two or three years, the efficiency of the ditch is reduced and eventually it will have to be cleaned by a JCB-type machine, which is much slower and more expensive." says Mr Webber. &#42

Richard Webber, left, and his son, Charley.

Cleaning out a ditch with the Klose 600DC powered ditch cleaner.