Middle England goes green with hosepipe envy


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The Independent Online

Not much happens in Manton, a tiny village in the Wiltshire countryside. Its residents enthuse about horse-racing – after all, some of Britain's best stallions are housed in stables there. The villagers also enjoy gardening. The place is full of greenery and, on a cold afternoon yesterday, some homeowners were admiring the fruits of their labour.

But the people of Manton are angry. They are – just – within the jurisdiction of Thames Water, one of seven utility companies that imposed a hosepipe ban at midnight on Wednesday.

Among other prohibitions, residents of Manton are now unable to maintain their ornamental fountains, and will have to water plants more sparingly with watering cans. But similar homes just 10 minutes up the road, outside the Thames Water area, are free to use hosepipes as they wish. At The Outside Chance pub, staff were worried they will not be able to maintain their hanging baskets. The manager, Hannah Lampard, 25, said: "We've replaced our bulb plants with rock gardens, which won't suffer as much. There is an awards season coming up and it's not going to be easy. It's irritating that just a short way down the road you can use a hosepipe to wash your car."

You might expect residents of nearby Oare, whose Wessex Water contracts mean they are ban-free, to sympathise with their neighbours, but not a bit of it. "Don't be soft. They should get on with it," said Irene Upton, 79, who claimed there was rivalry between the villages "many years ago".

Tending the delicately potted borders of her lawn, she said her two "well-stocked" water butts meant that "if we had a ban, I'd be fine". However, she admitted: "While most of my plants take care of themselves, they need a good drink now and again."

Her supplier, Wessex Water, was also boastful. "By carefully managing our water resources, by moving water from areas that have surplus water to those in deficit, we have been able to continue to supply customers without introducing restrictions," said its spokesman, Ian Drury. However, he admitted the company was concerned about the impact of the dry spell "on river flows, habitats and agriculture in our region".

Parts of the River Kennett, which runs through Manton, have dried up. People say it's the worst they've seen the river since the infamous long, hot summer of 1976. A campaign group, Action for the River Kennett, claims Thames Water has siphoned too much water from the river. Caroline Parry, a Manton resident and garden designer, felt the village had been treated unfairly. "They should be doing more for the South-East. We are a long way from London and yet we are having to go without because of them," she said.

Ms Parry, 71, has downsized her vegetable patch since the ban was announced. She is worried about the potential £1,000 fine should people inform the water firm of an infraction. But surely no one in such a close-knit community would snoop? "In this village they definitely would, I can assure you," she said. "It's jealousy in a way."

Michael and Maureen Ponting, both in their 80s, said that while they were happy to use a watering can, they suspected the village as a whole "won't do" the hosepipe restrictions. "People are very proud of their gardens here," said Mrs Ponting, a former botanist. "We're having ours redone again. But you'd hope no one would snoop."

Forget eggs, it's a brolly you'll need this Easter

The good news is you won't need snow boots. The bad news is you won't need sunglasses, either.

After a fortnight that witnessed two weather extremes, conditions will average out for a consistently mediocre Easter weekend dominated by cloud and April showers, say forecasters. Though sunshine is likely to greet southern parts of Britain this morning, the Met Office said overcast skies and drizzle would soon spread across the country for the four-day break.

But the light rain will offer only limited relief to gardeners worrying about the hosepipe ban.