This year has seen one of the driest summers everwith most of the country officially still in drought. Millions of people in England have a garden hose ban water shortages and reservoir and river levels remain low.
The solution to this? According to the head of Natural England, people should flood their gardens and create swamps to halt the effects of drought and reverse biodiversity loss.
Tony Juniper, who heads the quango government, said paved front yards and backyards that don’t hold much water could contribute to sewage spillage into waterways as surface water runs off the hard or dry surfaces.
He advised people to turn their gardens into a wetlands, which can hold water and prevent runoff. This would also create habitats for many creatures.
“I was recently in conversation with some colleagues in the water industry,” he told the… Gathering Nature Festival at Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk. “Everyone knows the combined sewerage system, where sewage water ends up in the rivers. Part of the problem is the rapid drainage that comes from hard surfaces, where you get a lot of water in the drains, which also get the sewage, and they overflow.”
He said one of the measures water companies are now thinking about is collecting water in gardens, and part of this could be about creating a miniature wetland in our backyards.
“It’s about the extent to which you could interrupt the flow of water before it ends up in sewers and rivers,” Juniper says.
“And that’s an interesting way to involve people who don’t actually see a connection between their home and the river — by going this route to wilder gardens to hold more water.”
Nature organizations agree and recommend that people create “peat gardens” that can help wildlife and store water. This can be a small, flooded corner of a yard where insects thrive.
Ali Morse, water policy manager at the Wildlife Trusts, told the Observer“There are 400,000 hectares of home gardens in the UK – a huge area that covers far more than all of the country’s major nature reserves combined – and they have enormous potential to help us cope with the interconnected climate and wildlife crises .
“Making your yard wilder and wetter will help wildlife and also play an important role in making your yard less drought-prone and reducing pollution in local rivers.”
The loss or degradation of natural wetlandsshe said, has been linked to a massive decline in wildlife, from frogs and toads to water mice and insects.
“If you don’t have room for a traditional pond, consider a birdbath, a low water bowl for hedgehogs and other mammals to drink from, a bog garden or a bucket pond, which can be a lifeline for insects such as butterflies and bees. Everything needs water. People are often amazed at the huge variety of aquatic animals that make their way into ponds: dragonflies and damselflies, grass snakes, hedgehogs, foxes and birds all need water to survive.”
A spokesman for the Rivers Trust agreed, adding that England has lost almost all of its wetlands as a result of agriculture and development.
“Groundwater from aquifers is critical during droughts and will be even more so during extreme climate conditions. Many aquifers are no longer replenished by impermeable hard surfaces such as roads, driveways and buildings. This means that rainwater is diverted to the stormwater and can cause sewer overflow during heavy rains, we need to rebuild the local water cycles and allow this water to infiltrate and follow its natural path.”
Building up wetter: how do you retain water in your garden
Remove hard landscaping to allow rain to soak into the ground
Ponds and swamp or rain gardens retain water during times of heavy rain, preventing flooding elsewhere; they also store water in times of drought