Gardeners say they can adapt to climate change

RHS issue climate change survey

A RHS survey has found that two-thirds (62 per cent) of British gardeners feel optimistic that they can adapt to the challenges climate change may bring, while 70 per cent believe changes in gardening practices can help them garden successfully in a changing environment.

The survey, with more than 1,000 respondents, will form part of a larger report the RHS is undertaking into the present and future impact of climate change on gardening in the UK. The complete report will be published later in the year.

While a minority of respondents thought climate change was definitely not (one per cent), or probably not (four per cent) occurring, those who thought it was definitely (52 per cent), or probably (34 per cent) taking place were already taking action to adapt to climatic changes.

Four fifths of respondents reported that they had started paying more attention to the weather in recent years while 65 per cent said they were being more careful to protect their plants from weather extremes, especially the cold.

The survey found that gardeners were optimistic that their understanding of climate change and personal gardening skill could help them in the future as long as they adopt a flexible approach to the new challenges. Although many worry about the future, the survey reveals real optimism about their abilities to adapt and face the challenges that climate change is bringing.

To assess just how willing gardeners are to adapt to these challenges, participants were asked to rate what changes they would find disappointing or unacceptable. Again, gardeners revealed a high degree of flexibility with 59 per cent stating that maintaining a green lawn in summer was not a priority, while 74 per cent agreed that if climate change meant growing their favourite plants became a challenge they would be moderately or definitely willing to replace them with more suitable ones. Only two per cent would not be willing to make the change.

A hardy third of the sample said they were willing to challenge the climate in order to grow their favourite plants and a further 35 per cent would occasionally try this approach, depending on the species involved.

Participants were generally open to the idea of receiving support to help them deal with future gardening challenges, with garden institutions (72 per cent), the garden industry (55 per cent) and the climate change science community (43 per cent) cited as the most appropriate organisations to provide that support.

The type of information and advice gardeners wanted included:

Information about plant varieties that are more resistant to weather extremes

Better labelling in garden centres about the suitability of plants for a changing climate

Clearer information about sustainable gardening and horticulture practices that can help mitigate the effects of climate change

Real-time regionally specific tailored advice on how to cope with current weather conditions.

RHS chief scientist Dr John David said: "This research provides a valuable insight into how UK gardeners and the garden industry are coping with a changing climate and will be an important addition to the full climate change report which will be published by the RHS, the University of Reading and the University of Sheffield later in the year.

"The responses we've gathered reveal just how incredibly resourceful gardeners are and how willing they are to adapt their gardening behaviour and expectations to take account of the challenges that emerge from climate change. But the survey also highlights the crucial role the horticultural sector has to play in helping gardeners garden successfully in a changing world."

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