Drought alert sparks sales fear

Nurseries reap benefits from water self-sufficiency as suppliers hedge against low winter rainfall.

Growers have expressed concern at the prospect of drought conditions next summer, fearing that it could have an impact on sales.

Water companies have warned that there is a possibility of water shortages next year if there are low levels of rain over the winter.

Lowaters Nursery director Charles Carr said: "I'm concerned about the effect it might have on sales, but at the nursery our reservoir is filling up reasonably well.

"We installed a rainwaterharvesting system and for 12 months we have been self-sufficient in water. We did it for both water quality and business security and have done the right thing because we have the water we need and are immune to price rises by water companies.

"My concern is that hosepipe bans early in the season would send a negative message and discourage people from buying."

Thames Water warned of a possible drought next year after it had to turn on a back-up network of underground aquifer storage for the first time since the 2006 drought.

Director of external affairs and sustainability Richard Aylard said: "This summer may have been grey but it was also consistently dry. Fifteen of the past 19 months have seen below-average rainfall and 2011 has been one of the driest years on record."

Anglian Water has obtained a drought permit from the Environment Agency that will allow it to take extra water from the River Nene to top up its Pitsford Reservoir. It has also applied for extra water to be pumped into Rutland Water until the end of April 2012.

South East Water, Veolia Water Central, Southern Water and Severn Trent have also expressed concerns.

Industry view

"From a customer point of view it's a worry. A lot of people are looking at irrigation systems and that helps relieve the problem, but we will be alert. If the situation gets too much press it can stop people from buying. A few years ago we started growing more drought-tolerant plants and we highlight that on the label to educate the customer."

Ian Hazon, production director, Coolings garden centre

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