If anybody in the UK is reading this, you will know that the last few days have been absolutely roasting and it hasn’t rained in a while. You may be seeing the evidence of water scarcity on your lawn and that can’t be surprising, freshwater only covers around 2.5% of the Earth’s surface and even then most of it is inaccessible due to it being trapped underground or in ice caps and glaciers.
The UK is somewhat lucky when it comes to freshwater availability due to our Northern latitude, however, a rising population, poor water management and climate change could lead to regular droughts in summer months in the relatively near future. Luckily, we can still cope with water shortage as long as we act consciously and try our best at conserving the freshwater we have.
The best thing about water conservation? It could help our wildlife. Read on to see what you can do to save water and wildlife at the same time.
As I said earlier, water management is poor in the UK, many rivers have urbanised basins and this means that the water will not be slowed on its course, this leads to flooding in the winter and water scarcity in the summer. Sometimes this scarcity can have massive effects such as in 1976 when ‘Sheffield's rivers the Don, Sheaf, Shire Brook and Meers Brook - all ran completely dry’ during the drought at the time. (click grey text to see article on the BBC news website)
This highlights the importance of water storage, if entire rivers can dry up then your garden too can be at risk. So let’s explore the options for water storage.
Firstly, one of the most popular methods of water storage is using a water butt. Before you giggle at the name, it’s not what it sounds like, a water butt is a large container for water and can often be connected to the guttering on your roof, which helps to collect a large amount of water when it rains. They’re also small and unobtrusive so they can be placed in smaller gardens.
The next method of storing water is my favourite method, a garden pond. If you have the space and the capability to make a pond then I’d completely recommend it. If you want to make a wildlife friendly pond then start by digging a hole with smooth sloping sides (animals such as birds and hedgehogs can be at risk of drowning if the sides of the pond are hard to climb out of). Once you have the hole, you may need liner if your garden soil drains fast. Once you have lined the hole then you can fill the pond (I would recommend that you don’t fill it during a drought), the best time to build a pond will be in the autumn months as the ground will be softer and damper and you will be able to allow rainfall to fill the pond which is healthier for the pond and reduces your water use.
A wildlife pond with sloped edges will come in useful as an emergency source of water, but it will also be a good way to provide habitat and drinking water to a variety of animals, and you can plant some aquatic plants and fine tune your aquascaping ability.
Use this Wildlife Trust guide if you want to make your own wildlife pond.
Water conservation should be done at any opportunity, but please remember to leave some water out for the wildlife in your garden, this hot weather is a killer for animals if they can’t access water
Plant smart isn’t just the name of an inevitable horticulture startup, it’s the way I think when gardening. You need to ensure that the water needs of your garden aren’t too high to maintain in summer. I will outline how you can conserve water while planting.
The first step is to aim towards planting native, think about the wildflowers that are thriving unassisted in your nearby park, these are the plants best suited to your garden because the chances are that they’re growing in conditions that are remarkably similar to your garden. If your ultra local plants don’t really do it for you, you can still look at other plants from your country (from my point of view this is the UK), these plants will have water demands that match the seasons and weather that are local to you. Planting native is great because it ensures that wildlife will respond positively to this additional habitat and were the seeds to spread, you won’t risk the proliferation of an invasive species.
For those who like plants that are likely to succumb to water scarcity, there are methods to ensure that you can reduce watering while also keeping the plant in great condition. If you consume a good amount of fruit and vegetables then the good news is that you can mulch the soil around your plants, this added layer of organic matter will help trap moisture within the soil and has the added bonuses of increasing nutrient availability and giving a habitat to the micro-organisms that keep our soil healthy. If you don’t have much organic matter to use as mulch, you can use store bought woodchips or alternatively gravel. For one of my hanging plant pots containing lavender, I have used some left over fish tank gravel to line the top of the soil and just one watering will last it a week.
Lawns are nice when green and verdant, especially in the midday sun. They are however a drain on water supplies, if you do have a lawn then consider what you want to use your water for, the lawn or your ornamental plants? You could also consider mulching your lawn, attempting to plant drought proof species of grass or planting only native species of grass. I would also like to say that if you do reduce water usage in your lawn, please water a small patch to keep it soft, this will help the blackbird parents on their second brood, or the fledglings from the first brood to access worms in the soil in order to feed themselves.
Grey water is something which you should utilise in your garden, an example of grey water is the water left over from your dishes, you should ensure that it doesn’t have any overtly harsh chemicals within and you should also try to keep the levels of salt at a minimum, because salt can be harmful in large amounts to plants. Grey water contains traces of human hair, grease and bacteria, it will also contain dish soap, alkalinity can be a concern but soapy water is better than no water in a drought. Due to the occurrence of bacteria you should try and prevent grey water from touching any food that you are growing in your garden, if you can ensure that the water only touches the base of a food plant and not the part you eat then it should be fine to do so.
My final advice isn’t so much water conservation on a local level but on a global level, you should shop sustainably, avoid buying fruit out of season as this exacerbates climate change, you should also avoid buying fast fashion because 1.3 trillion gallons of water are used each year for dying fabrics alone. The amount of water to produce just one pair of blue jeans ranges from 500-1,800 gallons. This doesn’t affect the UK so much because we don’t produce cotton, but the areas that do produce cotton have a warmer climate and the water demand for cotton is a huge strain on river ecosystems.
This ends the article, If I have made any mistakes in my information or even wording then please let me know in the comments, I love to know where to improve.
Also, share this article on social media in order to raise awareness.
Are there any ways you can think of for conserving water?
Created by Jack Phillpotts