Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 612

11 AUGUST 202 2 5 NEWS&VI EWS Illustration: Amelia Flower/Folioart ANNA SHEPARD Illustration: Alex Green/Folioart MY WEEK Chris Packham WEEK 30: WATERING THE GARDEN With a summer drought in full swing, our tiny patch of lawn is resembling straw. In the past, I’ve resorted to the sprinkler when the grass is parched. The kids love to dance through it on a baking afternoon, but after finding out that a sprinkler uses 1,000 litres of water an hour – enough to fill more than 12 bathtubs – I’ve changed tactics, instead hurling bowls of grubby washing up water onto the patchy tufts. (It’s a good reason to use a bowl, instead of washing up directly in the sink.) According to Anton Rosenfeld at Garden Organic, there’s no need to water a lawn. “Even if your grass has yellowed in hot, dry weather, it will recover,” he says. Instead, prioritise watering seedlings and young plants, but at the fringes of the day. Outside of earlymornings and cool evenings, there’s no point using a watering can, as the water is lost to evaporation. In a heatwave, he says, allow some water to soak into the soil first to prevent it running o dry soil. For mymost precious plants, I try layering mulch around them to lock inmoisture. It can bemade fromall sorts of bits and pieces. In the absence of straw and grass cuttings, I rip up a few egg boxes andmix that with a bit of compost to cover the soil aroundmy favourite camellias. To collect and store rainwater, a water butt is essential. In our last house, we hacked into our drainpipe to fit one. Despite several YouTube videos, it was the limit of our DIY ability. Until we dare repeat it, I’ve devised a rudimentary alternative. Themoment I hear the telltale taps on the windows of a summer downpour, I rush to the garden grabbing any bowls and buckets on the way. Eccentric, perhaps, but my camellias will thankme. My year of living sustainably Somemay like it hot, but I don’t like being subjected to the sort of oven-ready temperatures we’ve experienced recently. While the exotic rescued tigers at our Isle of WightWildheart Animal Sanctuary happily licked their ice lollies and romped around their pool, some UKwildlife flagged, faded and sadly died. I survived by retreating into an insulated house stocked with edibles and cool clean water andmorphed into a ‘naturist naturalist’, doing radio interviews sweating in the nude – but I wasn’t dying of starvation or thirst in the inferno outside. Let’s face it, I wasn’t a barnacle, baked onto its shoreside grave, or a baby swift lying on the streets after a failed bid to escape being cooked in its nest. I felt wretched contemplating the cruel di erence betweenmy discomfort and their desperate fight for survival. I enjoyed a brief reprieve with the news that a grass snake had been seen threading its way through the scorched fabric of my garden. That was a first for me – a grass snake in the garden. Wow! Meanwhile, another first occurred for Norfolk with the hatching of European bee-eaters in a quarry there, enthusiastically guarded bymy friend and fellow bird enthusiast FabianHarrison. These Versace-esque birds seldombreed this far north, so there’s an undeniable thrill in seeing their signature cochineal and teal contrails as they flit skywards to catch their prey on the wing. But knowing of their presence is bittersweet – another warning of our rapidly warming world. While I was away working on a new autism series for the BBC, I heard that we’d had another garden visitor – a skinny adolescent badger, wandering about in the blazingmidday sun rummaging for remnants under the bird feeders. It was probably severely dehydrated and starving, due to a lack of earthworms and other normally easymeals which had succumbed to the heat. Badgers can tolerateMediterranean climes – they populate Spain and other hot places – but their life support systems haven’t had time to adapt to life in a hot zone here. I don’t knowwhat happened to that poor badger. It haunts me. Some scientists believe this is the hottest our planet has been since civilisation began, perhaps for 125,000 years. I felt humbled by the folk protesting among the ancient boughs of the recently slain Queen Camel oak tree in Somerset. It spent 600 or so years growing but found itself in the path of a 21st-century slip road development to connect the newA303 dual carriageway to a private school. That tree lived through the Battle of Agincourt, Columbus’s arrival in the Americas and the Gunpowder Plot. Since reaching adulthood in its centenary year, it’s gifted us two hippos worth in weight of carbon capture. I contemplated this as I wateredmy knee-high two-year-old oak saplings, knowing that soon the post-heatwave hosepipe ban will be in place and it seems impossible they will live to 600 years old. This strikes me as apocalyptic-scale sadness. We cannot continue to treat our natural assets as disposable. It’s not as simple as plantingmore trees. My toddler saplings won’t mature into serious climate controllers or biodiversity providers withinmy lifetime – nature takes time to do its job. Our natural world is feeling the heat as temperatures rise