Gardener calls for grass-roots water rebellion

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The Independent Online

Thames Water has been castigated as a destroyer of lawns - not to mention fuchsias and camellias - for instituting a hosepipe ban on eight million householders earlier this month.

The ban outlaws the use of hosepipes and sprinklers for watering gardens or washing cars and has been introduced after two successive dry winters. The Environment Agency supports the ban and is warning that a long hot dry summer could lead to the worst drought for 100 years. Water conservation is essential, it says.

But gardeners, from a revered royal institution to allotment-holders, have been distinctly unimpressed.

The Royal Horticultural Society complains that gardeners in the South-east are being made to "carry the can" for low rainfall and the 793 million gallons of water that are lost every day in the UK because of leaky pipes. The society has published tips for saving water and a guide to legitimate use of hosepipes, such as cleaning garden furniture, which could be done on the lawn, opening a potential loophole.

The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners complains it is "daft" that car washes and swimming pools have water but hosepipes may not be used to water plants on which people have lavished so much money and time.

One garden designer, who has won 14 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, is going further by calling for an outright revolt. Paul Dyer is urging people to use their hosepipes - a real grassroots rebellion.

"Thames Water is not going to be able to prosecute hundreds of thousands of people," Mr Dyer said, who has received messages of support from fellow garden professionals and the public worried that well-tended plants will wither in the summer sun.

"Thames justifies the ban by saying: 'We are spending all this money fixing the leaks' but I feel gardeners are being victimised," he said. "More water is wasted in homes than in gardens.

"There is plenty of water in the Thames. Millions of gallons are going out to sea: why aren't they catching them?"

His complaint is that Thames Water has sold reservoirs for housing and that the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is blocking attempts to build a desalination plant.

Mr Dyer wants a "water martyr" to come forward and flout the ban openly and is offering to pay legal costs and any fine arising from a subsequent court case.

Under the Water Act 1991, members of the public can be fined £1,000 for breaking a hosepipe ban. More than 1,800 across southeast England have been warned about failing to follow the ban after being reported by their neighbours.

Most complaints have been to Southern Water, which has a hosepipe ban in force in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. Thames Water has received about 100.

Unless the weather improves - that is, becomes wetter - the company may be forced to apply for a drought order that would ban the watering of public gardens and sports pitches, a move that could see Wimbledon trucking in water to keep Centre Court lush.

Thames Water was infuriated yesterday by the behaviour of Mr Dyer, who lives outside its area in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The company said water storage capacity had been increased despite the closure of some reservoirs and building a drought-proof water system would be prohibitively expensive for the one summer in 20 requiring a hosepipe ban.

"A sprinkler uses, in one hour, what a family of four uses in a day," a spokesman said. "Is it fair that a low-income family in the East End without a garden or a car should pay more so that a family in a leafy suburb can water their garden in a drought?"

In any case, the spokesman said: "We are not saying: 'Don't water your garden'. We are saying: 'Do it carefully with a watering can'."

For the foreseeable future, Mr Dyer does not intend to stop spouting. He believes garden designers may go bust because of the hosepipe ban; his own firm specialises in water features.

"I am not being irresponsible because I am highlighting the irresponsibility of Thames Water," he said.

The water regulations


* Fill a swimming pool

* Have a water fight in the garden with the family

* Hose down the dog or cat

* Clean the patio with a pressure washer

* Leave a hose running on your driveway

* Fill empty containers

* Fill all the watering cans/water butts you could ever want

* Leave a tap dripping for months

* Water your allotment


* Top up a planted pot

* Water the vegetables that will feed your family

* Connect drippers to water your patio plants

* Leave a porous hose running underneath your new hedge

* Water planted containers

* Use a spray rose on a hose to water your new lawn