In alignment with Water Saving Week, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is urging necessary action on water management grants to increase the industry’s resilience to droughts and encourage more businesses to reduce their reliance on mains water.
The National Drought Group met last month to discuss the critical need to focus on water resource preservation to reduce the risk of drought measures in the future.
A very dry February, followed by an exceptionally wet March and unsettled April, emphasise that businesses cannot rely solely on the weather and preserving water to prevent future drought measures needs to become the priority.
While much of England is in a considerably better position than last year with reservoir capacity across the UK at 94% as of the beginning of April, East Anglia, Devon, and Cornwall remain in drought and face temporary use bans.
The National Drought Group is preparing for the worst-case scenario of another hot, dry summer and is urging water companies and individuals to reduce leakage, decrease water consumption and find new ways of being resilient to drought.
On 4 April, the government published their ‘Plan for Water’, which outlines measures to increase drought resilience and ease water supply pressure.
It aims to take a systematic, local, catchment-based approach, using nature-based solutions and infrastructure investment. This is welcomed by the horticultural industry, which relies on water to flourish.
The HTA is encouraging horticultural businesses to reduce their reliance on mains water through the use of rainwater capture technology.
The current Water Management Grants from Defra are open to horticultural businesses growing or planning to grow irrigated food crops, ornamentals, or forestry nurseries.
However, the investment minimum needs to decrease for many members of the HTA to make it viable as these members want to implement reservoirs for self-sufficiency but do not need them at the current specified scale.
If the necessary, scale and investment were reduced more businesses could reduce their reliance on the national water supply. The HTA is requesting that water companies and the Environmental Agency provide or support a funding program for horticultural businesses to enhance rainwater capture, construct reservoirs, recapture run-off, and use grey water. This would help reduce capital costs for these businesses.
The industry fundamentally needs to grow sustainably to meet the government’s tree planting targets, mitigate against climate change, improve local biodiversity, and continue to contribute to human health and wellbeing.
This growth will become unnecessarily challenging should reliance on weather and mains water remain at their current level.
Additionally, the Environmental Improvement Plan released in February set out the government’s aim to increase the percentage of water storage used by the agriculture and horticulture sectors by 66% by 2050.
In the event of sustained drought periods before the necessary funding for investment is made available, the horticultural industry will continue to increase its use of rainwater capture.
However, it is imperative that water companies and the Environment Agency work together with the garden centre sector to encourage consumers to reduce water use in the garden and increase rainwater capture and water reuse at home so as to reduce mains reliance and be better prepared for the potential of another hot, dry summer.