Use water wisely as heatwave hits home, says Surrey Wildlife Trust

By Oliver Fry

Surrey Wildlife Trust is urging residents to do all they can to manage water wisely as continuing dry conditions threaten wildlife and habitats of all kinds across the county.

With droughts expected to become commonplace in the future, people who own or manage land of any size can make a real difference to nature and help minimise negative effects for people too. It has now become essential to avoid wasting water, to store water sensibly, and to create landscapes that retain moisture in all settings, from back gardens to parks to farmland.

Glen Skelton, Wetland Projects Manager at Surrey Wildlife Trust says:

“Unfortunately, the heatwave that’s happening now is just a taster of what’s to come in years ahead. This will have massive implications for every aspect of our lives, from the health of our economy to how our gardens look. We have a small window to build resilience and avoid disaster, so it’s time for action now. If companies, organisations and individuals do their bit to save water and create spaces that naturally hold and retain much-needed moisture, we can build resilience into our landscapes to help us adapt to climate change.”

With water supplies increasingly under pressure, it’s important to minimise demand on our groundwater, rivers and reservoirs. Surrey Wildlife Trust is urging everyone to use water sparingly, including by never running taps for longer than is necessary, keeping baths shallow and showers short.

For people with gardens, simple steps can help retain moisture during dry periods, reducing the pressure on water supplies and helping create green gardens that are good for wildlife. It makes sense to take action now to combat the worst effects of the current drought and also to make sure that the next one is easier to manage. Immediate steps should include using waste water from the bath or sink rather than a hose to water plants, and avoiding unnecessary digging in the garden as this dries the soil. Now could also be a good time to install water butts to store future rainfall that falls on house and shed roofs and would otherwise be wasted as run-off. Multiple water butts can be linked up to prolong their use during dry spells.

In the longer term, Surrey Wildlife Trust recommends: Using plenty of organic matter and mulch to ensure that soil retains moisture for plants.

Installing garden ponds or bog gardens with plenty of native plants to give wildlife a place to live. Even if they dry out in summer, the mud provides a vital home for plants, amphibians and invertebrates that are important food sources for other wildlife.

Reducing paved areas in the garden to allow water to infiltrate into the ground rather than run off.

Paving over lawns or other green spaces is not just extremely bad for nature; it creates run-off into roads and drains and makes flooding more likely. It’s far better to let outdoor spaces grow wild, so they retain moisture.

Surrey Wildlife works with landowners to help them make effective use of water on their land, helping build resilience against extreme weather and making crops less prone to failure while providing suitable habitat for native plants and animals. Steps they can take include:

Creating species rich grass swards that are more tolerant to drought than monoculture grasslands due to the action of deep rooting plant species which help to improve the water holding capacity of grassland soils.

Planting crops using direct drilling rather than ploughing. This enables the soil to build up stores of organic matter and support soil invertebrates such as worms. These soils can hold up to 10 times more water than intensively managed soils helping crops to be more
resilient in dry spells.

Allowing hedgerows and woodlands to thrive, as these features promote good infiltration of water, provide shade and act as flood barriers when extreme weather hits.

Planting a cover crop during the winter such as radish or clover after main crops have been harvested.
These help to increase infiltration and reduce surface run off, helping to keep soil on the fields rather than
polluting the nearest watercourse.

Where possible, the creation of wetlands on a large scale is hugely beneficial to people and nature. As well as being a home for countless species, well-managed wetlands play a vital role in carbon sequestration and flood prevention. Over the last century, the UK has lost 90 per cent of its wetland habitats, meaning that autumn and winter rainfall increasingly causes floods rather than being safely stored in the landscape.

We all have a part to play in protecting ourselves, our families and the natural world from climate change. Building resilience takes time so we must start now.

More information about how to help wildlife in dry weather is at

Tips on saving water at

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