mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Friday, 9 December 2011

Drought? Not in this bit of Britain

'If you can see Dartmoor, it's going to rain; if you can't, it is raining,' one of the village characters told me on our first meeting. I took this to be a joke at the time, but the facts appear to bear this out – there have been few days that haven't rained since our arrival. Or maybe it just seems that way.

So I was somewhat surprised recently when I heard on the news that much of the country is in drought. Apparently, lack of rainfall means groundwater levels are falling and one water company has been granted a permit to pump extra water into one of its reservoirs and others are having to use more river water to top up supplies.

'The ground below our feet is still dry, and at this time of year we would expect it to be fully saturated,' said Trevor Bishop, head of water resources at the Environment Agency. Well, if Trevor, ever feels the need to remind himself what saturated ground looks like, he's very welcome to pop round.

In the course of researching my blog on the curious incident of the worm in the launderette (All in a lather, Nov 2nd), I happened across an interesting nugget of information from the ever useful Devon County Council. 'Crediton,' it said on its Devon Town Focus 'lies in the heart of an area of outstanding natural beauty, with a unique climate thanks to its position in the rain shadow of Dartmoor.'

A rain shadow, as defined by Wikipedia, is apparently a dry area on the lee side of higher ground. I don't know where this dry area is meant to be, but we are clearly not in it since we appear to be over-blessed on the precipitation front. We are on high ground between Dartmoor and Exmoor, which I am sure has something to do with our climate and explains the current saturation under foot that poor Mr Bishop so yearns for.

Very soon, so I am told, when the trailer has the curved roof that Gully has spent long hours working on, we will have more water than we can deal with. This is because guttering will channel it into barrels where we can harvest it. I am guessing that the point where we affix the guttering is the point where we suddenly encounter a long, dry spell.

We have so far been getting water from various sources – kind friends and relatives – which we bring home in five-gallon containers and ferry precariously across the field in a wheelbarrow (see Like Glastonbury, but without the fun, Oct 28th). We get through three to four of these of week and since they require some effort to obtain, I have become a miser with water – hoarding and recycling as much as I can. I recycle the same water for cooking or steaming all the vegetables; when I wash up I stop halfway through, remove the water from the bowl and reheat it; if we have hot water bottles (a rare occurrence on account of the water take-up) I empty them back into a saucepan in the morning and use them for washing.

According to our old friends, the Environment Agency, in a survey of London households from 2004/5-2008/9 the five-year mean average water use per person was 161 litres per day. Ours is around 79 litres for the week - for a family of five. Now don't fret, I haven't got my preachy face on, but it does go to show that if you have to work a bit harder for your water and conserve it more, then there are big savings to be made.

We do, of course, use more than that away from the caravan. We go swimming – and the average swimming pool contains around 16,000 gallons of water. And we use other other people's flushing loos (average eight litres per flush). Then there's the launderette (65 litres per wash), and you'll be pleased to hear that we have showers too (at around 40 litres a go for a gravity shower); and my monthly bath is a whole 80 litres, a figure interestingly close to our weekly domestic water consumption.

And I am fully aware that once we have something as sophisticated as running water, our domestic use will go up. I remember trying to conserve and recycle water before in those heady days when we had a dishwasher and a bath, and very soon got tired of the whole process. As we progress with the farm and our plans, obtaining water should become easier – although we still plan to stay off-grid and harvest rainfall. But I am hoping that no matter how convenient its use will become, I will never again take water quite so for-granted as I once did.

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