2020 Green Apple Awards for Environmental Good Practice

By Simon Barefoot

 Where there’s a well there’s a way 

An initiative to reduce potable (tap) water use 

What did the project involve? 

Oakham Smallholders Association (the Association) are a small group of like-minded individuals who enjoy growing their own flowers, fruit and vegetables, whilst caring for their environment. Although not totally organic, the Association looks to keep pesticide use to a minimum and to use natural fertilizers. 

Beneficial birds, such as blue tits, are encouraged through the provision of nest boxes, and pollination of the crops is assured, as the allotment has its own beehives. 

The allotment is fortunate that it has its own potable (tap) water supply, but after the long dry summer of 2018, the 50 allotment holders set themselves a challenge to become self-sufficient in water and to eliminate the use of potable water. 

The summer of 2018 was the joint hottest on record for the UK as a whole, and the hottest ever for England. 

During this time, we were urged by our water company to reduce the amount of “precious” water we used – to shower for only four minutes, let lawns turn brown, not to wash our cars and to avoid using sprinklers or hosepipes. 

However, you cannot grow flowers, fruit and vegetables without water! 

There was, therefore, an ongoing programme, in late 2018 and early 2019, to ensure that the allotment’s many sheds and greenhouses each had, as a minimum, one 1000 litre IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) or “water cube” to capture or “harvest” as much rainwater as possible. 

Why did you do it? 

Water is a valuable resource and potable water requires considerable amounts of energy and fossil fuels to both treat and transport it. 

By looking to eliminate the need to use potable water we would, not only be helping to save a precious resource, but also help to reduce our allotment’s carbon footprint. 

We all have a duty to reduce our carbon emissions. If we make no effort to do so, global warming is likely to continue, which will have significant consequences for both human welfare and biodiversity worldwide. 

What did it cost and where did the money come from? 

The total cost of the project was only £23, which came out of the Association’s funds. 

The allotment holders carried out all the work themselves and the majority of the materials required were obtained free of charge. 

The water butts and hose pipes were obtained for free from Freecycle – a not for profit organisation whose aim is to promote the re-use of materials and keep them out of landfill https://www.freecycle.org/

All of the timber required for the project, for example to build the well cover, was recovered from various skips in the vicinity of the allotment – allotment holders hate to see thrown away any timber that can be put to good use. 

The batteries, solar panel and various other materials were given by various allotment holders. 

The IBCs were donated by a local business. 

If quantifiable, what did the project achieve in terms of sustainable development, economy, environment and/or equity? 

In 2018 allotment holders used 76 m3 of potable water at a cost of £141. 

In 2019 allotment holders used 0 m3 of potable water saving them £88. 

Unfortunately, the holders still had to pay the standing charge, which was £53 

The carbon footprint of one pint of tap water is 0.14g of CO2 e1, so this also equates to an annual saving of the equivalent of 20 kg of CO2 e. 

Who and what benefited? 

The initiative has raised the awareness of the allotment holders of what they can do to eliminate potable water use on their allotment. 

As well as benefiting the environment, it has also saved the allotment holders money. 

Longer term benefits? 

The UK could face significant water shortages in less than 25 years due to climate change, increased consumption and population growth. 

Climate change is leading to wetter winters and drier summers. 

February 2020 was the wettest on record and May 2020 was one of the driest. 

It is important that the British public become more conscious of their water use and use it more wisely. 

Water is vital in the fight against coronavirus. 

Using rain water in place of potable water to water plants will help to reduce demand. 

The Association is also “future proofing” itself against the possibility that there may be restrictions in the future on the use of potable water to water plants.

Was there anything innovative about the project? 

We are not aware of any other allotment association that has set up a water main around their allotment to distribute well water using a solar powered pump. 

Can other organisations/communities benefit from implementing your methods? 

Any organisation, community or individual with a roof, however small, can collect rainwater to use not only for watering plants, but also for washing cars and boots and, in construction, dust suppression. 

The average annual rainfall in our region3 is 609 mm. So, from a 1.8m x 1.2m shed you can harvest 1.3 m3 of rain water per year. 

Whilst each organisation, community or individual may only collect a small quantity of water each year, the combined effort could be significant. 

We acknowledge that the Association is fortunate to have its own well, but we are aware of at least one other allotment association that is looking at the feasibility of constructing their own well. 

What did you learn from the project and are you planning any further development? 

We learned how passionate our allotment holders were about “doing their bit” for the environment. 

Also, we learned that it was possible, by looking in the right places, to find the materials we needed at little or no cost. 

There are still several plots without a water cube. It is intended to rectify this by autumn 2020. 

We are also aware that the well cannot provide a constant supply of water all year round, so we are also looking to provide some additional storage capacity to be used during the “rainy season”. 

Finally, we are looking at prioritising what we water and when we water it. 

About the Author

Simon Barefoot has been the President of the Association for some 16 years. His hands-on approach includes trimming the hedges, cutting the grass and encouraging the cultivation of flowers, vegetables and fruit on our special site. He runs the seed order scheme and is involved with the poultry ‘co-operative’. Promoting rainwater collection and low-tech crop management are important interests.