Volunteer gardeners and community groups will be needed to help maintain parks, recreation grounds and sports fields, councillors were told.

Kirklees Council’s Grounds Maintenance team is over-stretched and under-funded and service levels will have to be cut again.

The council’s Economy and Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Panel was told that the Grounds Maintenance team has 70 full-time staff but had the workload for the equivalent of another 33 full-time workers, and something had to give.

The service receives no direct funding from council budgets and instead has contracts with other council departments and outside organisations, and financial pressures may see its income reduced still further.

The team cuts 4.8 sq km of grass and 35 km of hedges, maintains 70,000 sq metres of shrubbery and looks after more than 120 sports pitches.

Back in 2015 the council cut £1.3 million from the Grounds Maintenance budget which meant only the district’s main parks – such as Greenhead Park and Beaumont Park – were fully maintained.

Elsewhere grass was cut less often and some patches and verges were left to grow wild. Parks and recreation grounds were graded gold, silver and bronze for maintenance purposes.

Workload has increased steadily since and now a review is underway into how maintenance will be carried out in the future.

In the meantime the silver and bronze standards will be merged meaning grass will now be cut less often; hedges and shrubs will only be trimmed once a year; and some areas of bedding plants will be lost.

The panel was told that the Grounds Maintenance team had an ageing workforce – two staff had over 50 years’ service each with the council; recruitment was difficult; there was no central funding from the council and outside revenue may decline; and new machinery was needed, particularly mowers which can cut longer grass.

Council gardeners already work closely with volunteer ‘In Bloom’ groups and ‘Friends of’ groups but more volunteers will be needed. The council also wants more sports clubs to maintain their own pitches.

And the council has also issued two messages to the public which would help crews get through their work more quickly: Take your litter home; and clear up after your dog.

Councillors were concerned over the reduced standards but accepted that the service had to “cut its cloth accordingly.” This message would have to be communicated to the public.

Clr Tyler Hawkins (Lab, Dalton) warned that more deprived areas may not be able to form community groups while Clr John Taylor (Con), who represents the rural Denby Dale ward, said community groups in small villages were reliant on a handful of individuals and were reluctant to take on long-term commitments they might not be able to keep.

Clr Hawkins added: “The public will have a view that the council should be doing the maintenance entirely and I would agree with that but desperate times mean desperate measures.”

Clr Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) praised groups such as Mirfield in Bloom, which had much success in the Yorkshire in Bloom awards, and suggested that town and parish councils may take on some responsibility for maintenance.

Councillors expressed admiration for the gardeners with over 50 years’ service and Clr Taylor said they deserved special recognition.

“It’s amazing to stay anywhere for 50 years,” he said.