Gardeners are being urged to switch off sprinklers and let lawns turn brown after the driest May on record, combined with soaring demand from families at home during the Covid-19 lockdown, created a perfect storm for water suppliers as they struggled to meet demand.
Water UK, a body that represents major UK water suppliers, said the average overall use of water has increased by 20 per cent, with peak demand hitting 40 per cent above normal in some regions. It claimed an extra 2.2billion litres of water per day are being used – that’s the equivalent of 900 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Despite the pressure on supplies, Water UK said there are currently no plans for hosepipe bans, as the wet winter had led to healthy supplies of water stored in reservoirs.
According to the Met Office, England experienced its driest May on record, receiving only 9.6mm of rain; that’s just 17 per cent of the monthly average. Lawns baked under 626 hours of sunshine during spring.
With lawns previously damaged during the scorching summer of 2018, the joint hottest on record for the UK, we asked the Royal Horticultural Society if climate change could spell the end for the nation’s lush, green sward.
RHS chief horticulturist, Guy Barter, told Candide: “In the long term, under climate change, lawns will be more demanding to maintain in some regions as water will be scarce, although northern areas may be less affected. However, lawn grasses are being bred for better drought tolerance. The public are happier to see lawns partially replaced by ‘meadows’ where paths are mown but turf is allowed to grow and filled with wildlife-friendly plants, such as clovers.”
Guy added: “Lawns will green-up once rain returns, but be ready to scarify, aerate, feed and add seed in wet, mild autumn weather. The consequences of water shortages to the environment are serious, so we recommend letting lawns dry up – they can still be used for games and a dry lawn is nicer to sit on than a lush, green one.”
Lawncare expert David Hedges-Gower described water as “the world’s most valuable resource” and urged gardeners not to irrigate, pointing out that water only “enhances the colour, which isn’t even a representation of a healthy lawn”.
David explained: “Grasses are the UK’s most adaptive, resilient plants – a plant that’s adapted to climate change, has an ability to ‘shut down’ during heat and continues to come back, again and again. The way we manage lawn soils needs to be better and grasses should be more native. Lawns have never been about using large amounts of water and chemicals, unless managed badly.”
At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, head of the arboretum, Tony Kirkham, suggested that gardeners could “increase the size of planted borders and reduce areas of lawn” if they were concerned about parched grass.
Tony summed-up: “There is a future for the English lawn but we must expect it to brown off in dry conditions. New drought-resistant grasses will withstand a lack of water.”