Over the last three years we have seen water companies face significant resilience issues due to exceptionally high demand for water during hot, dry and sunny weather. A previous Artesia project demonstrated that the peaks in demand seen in 2018 were mainly a result of outside water use, for example for garden water, leisure and car washing. This kind of water use hit new heights during the first national lockdown (and subsequent easing of restrictions) in May and June 2020, when people with access to outside spaces were staying at home and doing more gardening.
Water companies have long provided messages about sensible use of water for gardening. Earlier this week I got some first-hand experience of the impact of these messages, when Joe Cahill and I were lucky enough to help out on a stand at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show dedicated to garden watering “the way nature intended”.
The amazing stand, (pictured) was the culmination of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project funded jointly by the RHS, Cranfield University and Innovate UK; and led by the brilliant Janet Manning. Janet invited us to help out as we’re running our own KTP project, with the University of Manchester, led by Joe, looking at how social science can be used to drive change in peak demand water use.
The stand encouraged gardeners to commit to range of small changes to collect rainwater, create healthy soils, develop better roots and slow the flow of water. Visitors were invited to scan a QR code on the stand and make pledges to change their gardening practices online at https://mains2rains.uk. This online tool then estimated how much water could be saved by each gardener and generated a total volume pledged. By Friday 24 September the total was over nine million litres of water in an average year.
My day on the stand was one of the RHS Members’ days, so there were lots of expert gardeners. Maybe as a result of this, I found nearly all visitors I spoke to were aware of many of the changes that were being recommended. Most had water butts already and accepted that a well-watered, year-round green lawn wasn’t the “done thing” anymore. People were very interested in the more technical solutions on display, like self-watering containers and permeable paving and some wanted to go a lot further with rainwater storage!
People who were less aware (or less receptive) to the water saving message reacted positively when the additional benefits of measures were discussed. For example the message that leaving your lawn to grow brown led to healthier grass with better roots was received better than simply saying that we had to stop doing this because we were running out of water.
Overall, it was clear to me that the messages about using water wisely in gardens is getting through to the enthusiasts we met, and this interest will surely increase through coverage like that presented in the programme linked above (which focused on sustainable gardening).
Artesia is keen to work more in this area, to help water companies manage peak demand and to learn more from Janet, the RHS and others about the savings in water demand that are possible if millions of gardeners all make small but important changes to how they use water.