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RHS calls on gardeners to make the switch from ‘mains to rains’

The RHS and Cranfield University are calling on the UK’s gardeners to swap mains water for rainwater as they launch a new online tool that calculates the potential saving from adopting different water efficient practices on their plots.

As much as 205 billion litres of water per year – enough to fill one billion water butts – is thought to be used by homeowners outside every year with a large proportion of this attributed to gardens. While plants are known to be beneficial for health, wellbeing and the environment, making small changes can not only help save water but reduce surface runoff and flood risk, promote heathier soils that store more carbon, and create stronger, more climate-resilient gardens.

The greatest saving is thought to come from not irrigating lawns during dry spells. If just one in ten households with average sized gardens pledged not to use a hosepipe or sprinkler system on their lawns the amount of water saved would fill as many as 383 million baths. But even simple ideas like deploying drip trays to catch drainage water from pots and tubs could make a difference with a saving of more than 3.3 million baths of water each year.

While installing water butts are an obvious way to save mains water, swapping hard landscaping for permeable paving can also help reduce run-off meaning that the soil is better able to absorb and store water. Likewise mulching new plants can limit evaporation resulting in them needing to be watered less often.

Despite the UK experiencing a wet May, the Environment Agency has warned if the UK does nothing to reduce its demand on mains water there will not be enough to meet demand by 2050.

Gardeners can learn more about reducing water use in gardens and pledge the actions they will take this year via www.mains2rains.uk with the total sum of these pledges set to be revealed at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in September.

Janet Manning, RHS water scientist, says: “Water is not often talked about as part of the climate and biodiversity crisis, but it’s where we will begin to feel the effects first and where we as gardeners can make a difference. We know that plants need water to survive but it’s often not as much as thought, as wasted water often disappears underground. By helping your soil to better capture and retain rainfall for your plants to use during dry periods you can reduce your overall use and benefit from a garden that will better withstand more frequent dry spells.”

Ian Holman, Professor of Integrated Land and Water Management at Cranfield University, adds: “The online mains to rains pledge system aims to help our nation of gardeners identify small changes in how they water their garden or allotment that reduce mains water use.  These choices will not only save time and money but benefit your garden plants and the wider environment.”

In 2019 the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), in collaboration with Cranfield University, recruited the UK’s first garden water scientist to deliver a Water Roadmap for the organisation which aims to capture, reduce, reuse and recycle water across RHS gardens, plants centres and events. This will be published in September and expand on existing water policies in place at its shows, gardens and plant centres to reduce reliance on mains water and expand its reservoir stores.

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