FOREST Green groundsman Stewart Ward has beaten off stiff competition to win the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) award for Environmental Project/Innovation of the Year.

Ward created the UK’s first organic football pitch while producing the slick, fast-passing surface requested by the manager; delivering the award over fellow finalist Northumberland Cricket Groundstaff Association and more than 200 other entrants in their category.

Ward said: "I am over the moon that we have won this award, it is great to be recognised by the industry leaders and shows that our unconventional methods really do work.

"I am constantly learning and am always keen to further my knowledge, I want to ensure that Forest Green Rovers are always at the forefront of the grounds keeping industry and am lucky that the chairman is very supportive of this." Judges from the Institute of Groundsmanship commented: "As a result of a complete review that embraced all grounds maintenance routines and pitch development, plans were put in place to improve all appropriate activities at Forest Green Rovers.

"The result includes the fact that the club became the first football club in the world to be accredited under the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme.

"This was achieved through the use of solar-powered equipment, sustainable line marking, photovoltaic panels, a ground-based solar system and the transition to having a totally organic football pitch where artificial chemicals are avoided.

"The club now is working towards becoming 100 per cent sustainable and efficient in the way it manages and implements all its operations."

Now in its fourth year, the IOG Awards acknowledge the high standards achieved by volunteer and professional teams and individuals at facilities that range from grass roots through to professional stadia level. The Awards' judging process recognises achievement, innovation and fresh thinking as well as examples of best practice from the leaders in the world of groundsmanship. The aim of the Awards is to raise industry standards and encourage greater professionalism within the industry.

Winners were announced in an Oscars-style awards dinner and ceremony hosted by talkSPORT radio presenter Mark Saggers at York Racecourse on Thursday, December 6.