One of the Ambrogio mowers being trialled at Withycombe pitches in Exmouth

Council trialling robot mowers in East Devon parks and gardens to improve cut quality while reducing operating costs

Residents in East Devon shouldn’t be too surprised if they catch a glimpse of self-operating lawnmowers busy cutting the grass in parks and gardens in Honiton and Exmouth over the coming months.

East Devon District Council is trialling the use of robot mowers at All Hallows Honiton, Manor Gardens Exmouth and Withycombe Pitches Exmouth during the 2019 growing season (spring to autumn), to assess their potential to cut operating costs and free up staff resource for other skilled jobs, while improving the cut quality/condition of the grass.

Once the trial is complete, the council will assess the potential to roll out more robot mowers across the district, subject to the machines living up to the claims made by their manufacturers.

The trial will allow the council to review the practicality of using robot mowers and assess the manufacturer’s claims that the use of the mowers can reduce operating costs by between 15-30% - although this figure does include savings made through staff reductions.

If robot mowers can be used across a wider range of sites the council would investigate reducing the number of temporary agency workers employed each year to meet increased demand during the growing season.

There are a number of other benefits to using the mowers:

The use of robot mowers is also said to improve the quality of the grass that is being cut. Because the mowers cut continually, taking a few millimetres at a time, the resulting cuttings mulch the lawn and help fertilise it, with the frequent cut and mulch also supressing weeds. The manufacturers claim this can all help reduce herbicide and fertiliser use and the council is particularly interested to test this at its sports pitch locations.

The council is trialling three different models, as follows.

•             Allhallows Honiton - Bell Robotics Big Mow, supplied by Automated Managed Services (AMS)

•             Manor Gardens Exmouth - two Husqvarna Auto mowers 550 & 520 supplied by Autocut

•             Withycombe Pitches Exmouth – two Ambrogio mowers L350 & L400 supplied by DGM/Mowermagic

All of the robots feature sophisticated GPS technology, which tracks their location, alarms that are triggered if they are moved and safety features, which make them turn in a different direction if they encounter an object or obstruction. They also have emergency stop buttons on the top. The cutting blades are located a little way back from the edge.

The mowers will be used at times of low public access or at sports pitch locations, which are gated to minimise interactions. Signs warning that the mowers are in operation are displayed at all the sites and the public are welcome to watch the machines working. However, the mowers must not be climbed on or picked up at any time by any member of the public.

John Golding, East Devon’s Strategic Lead - Housing, Health & Environment, said:

As part of our Transformation Strategy, where we aim to deliver the services our council tax payers expect despite huge reductions in grants, we are always striving to continuously improve what we do for the benefit of East Devon residents and visitors and this long term robotic mower trial is an exciting and interesting example of this. We are carefully assessing cutting edge technology to maintain our green spaces, to analyse the potential for this technology to reduce maintenance costs and improve quality. This will free up our permanent staff to work on more highly skilled tasks in our parks and gardens, as well as reducing our carbon footprint, as the machines produce up to 90% less CO2 emissions than standard petrol mowers and are much quieter.

Further progress updates about the robot mowers will be posted on social media: @eastdevon  facebook/eastdevon and Instagram eastdevondistrictcouncil