Climate change hits our own backyard as 4 in 5 UK gardeners notice its impact, reveals WaterAid survey

on
17 May 2024
Artist's impression of the WaterAid Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024


Download PhotosBrits love talking about the weather, but a WaterAid survey has revealed that a concerning 4 in 5 UK garden enthusiasts (82%) have noticed how hotter summers and prolonged heavy rainfall are affecting their garden, plants and home-grown produce.

WaterAid surveyed 2,000 UK people who own gardens or allotments ahead of RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where the international charity is unveiling its garden, which will harness the power of rainwater and highlight the importance of sustainable water management to combat the effects of climate change.

Three in five gardeners (60%) are concerned about the impact of climate change on their lawns, plants and home-grown produce. Two-thirds (66%) say excess rainfall has proved an issue, while over a third (38%) have experienced increased heat stress, and 35% have struggled with water shortages.  

The climate crisis is a water crisis, and according to the UN, a staggering 90% of all natural disasters are water-related, with more frequent and extreme floods polluting water sources and droughts drying up springs.

With support from grant-making charity Project Giving Back, The WaterAid Garden by award-winning landscape designer Tom Massey and celebrated architect Je Ahn will feature flood and drought resilient plants to adapt to a changing climate. These include the alder tree (Alnus glutinosa), which can absorb nitrogen and toxic heavy metals from the ground, improving soil health and fertility.  

The centrepiece is a rainwater-harvesting pavilion inspired by WaterAid’s work with communities around the world to develop sustainable water solutions. The garden’s design-led features allows all water that falls on the garden to be stored and utilised, rather than flowing into drainage systems. 

Tim Wainwright, WaterAid Chief Executive, said:

“The WaterAid Garden is a beautiful and thought-provoking way of celebrating our most precious resource – water – while also highlighting the need to adapt to the changing climate to ensure water keeps flowing, whatever the weather.

“Almost one in ten people globally lack clean water, and climate change is making the situation worse as more frequent flooding contaminates fragile water sources, while longer droughts dry up springs. At WaterAid, we are supporting people living on the frontline of the climate crisis, helping to ensure a reliable supply of clean water, which enables communities to thrive.

“The garden, made possible by Project Giving Back, is inspired by WaterAid’s work alongside communities across the world and we hope it will help people recognise the life-changing impact water has on everyone around the world.”

WaterAid’s survey found that nearly three in four (73%) of British gardeners think about the amount of water they use on their garden every time, often or sometimes. Nearly three in five Brits (58%) already collect rainwater for their gardens.  

Four in five (80%) gardeners have made changes to how they garden in the last five years, with a third installing a water saving system (31%), and a third using wastewater from the house to irrigate during dry spells. (31%).

Designer Tom Massey, said:  

“In recent years, British horticulture has felt the effects of extreme weather - including heatwaves, drought and flooding. As our climate changes water scarcity and insecurity is becoming more commonplace – here in the UK and around the world. We can all do things to help mitigate climate change, such as improving soil health, planting greenery to provide shade, and, most importantly, managing water sustainably.”

WaterAid’s survey found that only 1 in 10 people (8%) feel very confident in their understanding of climate sustainable garden practices.  

Tom has included elements of The WaterAid Garden that can be used at home, so visitors can take ideas to help their garden thrive whatever the weather, while also demonstrating the bridge between local and global concerns and the value of water for all.  

Tom’s top tips for a water-wise garden are:

Collecting rain  

Installing a simple water butt to gather rainwater run-off from garden buildings or downpipes is a must for all domestic gardens. Ensure there is an overflow pipe that redirects excess water to vegetable patches or ponds that require more water, mitigating waste and reducing water bills.    

Slowing flow  

Thinking about the way water moves though the landscape is an important way of managing excess surface water. Designing swales, depressions or channels can keep water in the landscape providing seasonal habitat for invertebrates and amphibians.  

Nurturing soil  

Healthy soil is the best foundation for a climate-resilient garden, and we should all take steps to protect and nurture it. Mulching is a cost effective and efficient way to protect soil as the mulch layer creates a protective barrier helping to insulate the soil, sustain moisture and protect against erosion. This can be an organic mulch such as homemade compost, or composted bark mulch, or inorganic mineral mulch such as gravel or other natural aggregate.  

Planting the right plant in the right place

Selecting plants adapted to site-specific conditions and planting the right plant in the right place ensures garden resilience without expensive retro-fitting of structures to protect plants from adverse weather. If you are on a windy exposed site, then plants that will tolerate a battering from wind and rain, or if you know you are in an area prone to flooding, then trees and plants that can tolerate boggy or wet conditions are really important choices.    

Gardening for flood and drought in a changing climate  

If you know your garden is prone to flooding, introduce one or two natural swales or water channels that can help store and redirect water away from areas you don’t want to become waterlogged. These more ‘boggy’ areas can be planted with things that thrive in moist conditions, such as trees, which can draw a lot of moisture from the soil.

ENDS   
For more information, please contact: 

[email protected] or [email protected]. Or call WaterAid’s press line on 020 7793 4537, or email [email protected]

Notes to Editors: 

Download photosProject Giving Back

Project Giving Back (PGB) is a unique grant-making charity that provides funding for gardens for good causes at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. PGB was launched in May 2021 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating effects on UK charitable fundraising - effects that have since been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis. PGB will fund a total of 15 gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2024 and intends to fund up to 60 gardens at the show from 2022 - 2026.

Project Giving Back was established with funding from two private philanthropists who are RHS Life Members and keen gardeners. They wish to remain anonymous. PGB will help UK-based good causes recover from the unprecedented effects of the global pandemic by giving them an opportunity to raise awareness of their work for people, plants and the planet at the high-profile RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Find out more at www.givingback.org.uk.

Tom and Je first worked together collaborating on ’The Hothouse’ the landmark project for London Design Festival 2020.  

The exhibit highlighted the effects climate change is having on what we can grow, displaying a range of edible and exotic plants in a beautiful contemporary structure. The structure provided a regulated temperature and protective environment for the exotic plants, but with the warming climate these plants could potentially be grown outside in the UK a couple of decades from now. The exhibit was sited in a high-profile area of public realm opposite the Olympic Park in Stratford.  

Since then, Tom and Je have collaborated on a number of projects, ranging from public parks and landscapes in and around the City of London to an educational forest garden for a library in Lea Bridge.

Found out more at www.tommassey.co.uk and www.studioweave.com 



WaterAid is an international not-for-profit determined to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. We work alongside communities in 22 countries to secure these three essentials that transform people’s lives. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28 million people with clean water and nearly 29 million people with decent toilets.

For more information, visit our website wateraid.org/uk, follow us on Twitter @WaterAidUK@WaterAid or @WaterAidPress, or find us on FacebookLinkedIn or Instagram.

  • 703 million people in the world – almost one in ten – don’t have clean water close to home.
  • 2.2 billion people in the world – more than one in four – don’t have safe water.
  • Almost 2 billion people in the world – one in four – lack soap and/or water to wash their hands at home, if they have a place at all.
  • 1.5 billion people in the world – almost one in five – don’t have a decent toilet of their own.
  • 570 million people in the world – 1 in 14 – have a decent toilet but have to share it with people outside their family. This compromises the privacy, dignity and safety of women and girls.
  • Almost 400,000 children under five die every year due to diseases caused by unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. That's more than 1000 children a day, or almost one child every one and a half minutes.
  • Investing in safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene services provides up to 21 times more value than it costs.

    [1] WHO/UNICEF (2023). Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2022: special focus on gender. Available at: washdata.org/reports/jmp-2023-wash-households-launch (accessed 11 Jul 2023).    

    [2] WHO (2023). Burden of disease attributable to unsafe drinking-water, sanitation and hygiene: 2019 update. Available at: who.int/publications/i/item/9789240075610 (accessed 24 Jul 2023).  

    [3] WaterAid (2021). Mission-critical: Invest in water, sanitation and hygiene for a healthy and green economic recovery. Available at: washmatters.wateraid.org/publications/mission-critical-invest-water-sanitation-hygiene-healthy-green-recovery (accessed 1 Nov 2023).