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Climate change, saving water and how your green spaces can be part of a change for the better

A look at the implications for climate resilient Grounds Maintenance plans for sustainably minded business

With a sweltering June and July, the UK has this year seen weather conditions that had journalists feverishly consulting Met Office records and looking back to the past record breaking summer of 1976. As lawns parched and tinder-dry moorlands burned, speculation invariably revolved around whether this was weather or evidence of a sustained shift: climate change. With the dreaded words “hosepipe ban” starting to be heard with ever greater frequency, the Environment Agency’s (EA) recently launched report “The State of the Environment: Water Resources”, its first major report on water resources in England, suddenly seemed incredibly prescient. Arguing that “climate change and demand from a growing population are the biggest pressures on the availability of water”, the report warned that action would be needed to “increase supply, reduce demand and cut down on wastage”. Without action, areas such as the South East could by 2050 face major deficits.

This situation is becoming serious and the EA has called for water companies, consumers and businesses to do their bit to take on the challenge of unsustainable demand and wastage of water. Among recommendations made was a call for personal water targets to avoid water shortages to respond to both current water supplies and the real challenges of climate change and a growing population. Clearly, policy shifts towards reducing water consumption are likely and, as a result, it makes sense for those owning and managing green spaces to anticipate and plan for these eventualities and for the greater frequency of extreme weather.

So, how will climate change impact grounds maintenance?

Summarising the likely impacts of the UK’s changing climate the Royal Horticultural Society’s 2017 Report “Gardening in a Changing Climate” explains that even if the current legislative efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions prove successful, global temperatures may still rise by at least a further 1.5 to 2.0 degrees over the next 100 years, and the UK’s average temperatures in every season across each region is set to increase. High year on year variability in rainfall will continue and there will be an increased number of dry spells, which will be most pronounced in the south. The frequency of very wet days will increase over the winter and these will be most pronounced in the northern areas of the UK.

These conditions will thus become the new normal for those in the grounds maintenance industry. Among the many issues this will create, practical implications of this will include:

  • More weeding, mowing and pruning will be needed as the growing seasons are extending with warmer springs and autumns.
  • Choice of climate resilient planting for these longer seasons and extreme weather events.
  • More methods of capturing water during intense rainfall events and planting schemes and ground cover that require less water and retain water better.
  • Property owners may consider introducing irrigation systems into their grounds – although this can be expensive and will need conditions such as experienced this year to be repeated more frequently to deliver a return on investment.
  • Consider incorporating watering programs into plans and specifications for grounds maintenance. These should dictate when additional watering for various different types of foliage on site should be triggered and how this should be monitored. Research and budget for emergency plans for extreme conditions when additional water may need to be brought on site and stored.
  • Warmer conditions will aid the spread of pests and diseases that will require more intensive activity to manage.
  • Timing and use of fertilisers will need to adapt to the extreme rainfall that washed out nutrients and releases nitrogen more quickly from the soil.
  • Closer attention to organic matter proportions in the soil – high organic matter makes for more resilient soil structures as it aids moisture retention and aeration. Higher temperatures speed up the breakdown of organic matter and rapid changes in temperature and soil moisture also result in rapid release of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere.

Ultimately, more environmentally sustainable ways of Grounds Management and water management will need to become the norm and forward planning will need to extend beyond the season ahead to span longer periods.

Yet while planning for the worst consequences of climate change, it is worth thinking about how organisations can play an active role in using their green spaces to address environmental challenges – and work proactively to help mitigate some of the challenges outlined above. In the Grounds Maintenance industry, we have seen an increasing emphasis on the concept of ‘Green Infrastructure’. This is the move away from seeing green spaces as an overhead, towards understanding how they can be an asset that can help contribute towards health and well-being. In business, this outlook goes beyond corporate virtue signaling and is increasingly being understood to be fully compatible with strategic goals by helping businesses create more productive environments for employees or customers. Undeniably, a driver for change is the CSR agenda and the desire to become more sustainable businesses, yet this too is an effective part of being an attractive and marketable business.

As well as changing how we manage green spaces, it is therefore important when planning new developments or redeveloping sites to consider how these sites can help to play an active role in minimising their environmental impact. Better planning of landscapes can play an important role in reducing water use, alleviating flood risks, mitigating urban heat islands and in contributing to carbon capture for cleaner air.

There are a wealth of compelling arguments for viewing your organisation’s green spaces as an asset and working with your grounds maintenance contractor can be a good way to develop this strategy. A good first step is to commission a green audit or survey that can be used to develop intelligent maintenance regimes that will maximise the potential of green infrastructure. Doing so will let you plan ahead and introduce gradual changes to the style and function of green spaces to ensure they consume less valuable natural resources and contribute more to your organisation’s environmental performance.

For more info on managing your grounds year round call GRITIT Grounds Maintenance on 0800 0432 911 or visit www.gritit.com

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