Holistic Water for Horticulture

Soft fruit polytunnel-based horticulture is an important economic activity in Kent but water resources are increasingly stressed and risks to the environment can occur where levels of resilience to flooding and soil erosion are low.

Holistic Water for Horticulture applies a ‘whole system’ approach, working with growers, Courtauld 2030 signatories and stakeholders in the Medway to develop measures for sustainable water management around polytunnel systems.

Holistic Water for Horticulture aims to:

Explore alternative sources of water for irrigation – to reduce abstraction pressure and dependency on mains water supply.

Mitigate local flood risk through nature-based excess water runoff management.

Improve business resilience by reducing operational costs.

Build on existing best-practise in commercial polytunnel horticulture in the Medway.

Create a more resilient supply chain for growers, retailers and customers.

What is polytunnel horticulture?

Polytunnels allow growers to grow high value soft fruit crops over an extended growing season that usually extends from March to October in the South East of the UK.

Polythene polytunnel covers protect soft fruit crops such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries from adverse weather conditions. Fruit plants are grown in pots or bags of coir and get all of their nutrients and water from precision trickle irrigation systems.

Polytunnels on a farm

Partnership approach

Holistic Water for Horticulture is one of several projects in vital sourcing catchment areas across the UK supported by signatories of the Courtauld Commitment 2030 which supports collaborative action across the UK food chain to deliver measures to reduce water stress, food waste and greenhouse gas emissions, helping the UK food and drink sector meet key environmental goals.

The solution

Working with growers at demonstration sites, HWH is designing, testing and demonstrating combinations of nature-based water capture and retention features to inform and roll out to the rest of the sector. A tool box of measures enables the right combination of interventions to be selected that address the needs of individual polytunnel sites. Measures can include rain water harvesting and storage, and nature-based solutions to manage runoff and improve soil quality, such as floral plots, wetlands and tree planting. These measures provide multiple benefits that support biodiversity, improve water quality and sequester carbon.

Lessons learnt from this project will also inform supplementary planning guidance to ensure responsible water management during construction and operation of new polytunnels.

Find out more

Partnership working as part of Holistic Water for Horticulture © South East Rivers Trust

Thanks to our supporters

The Rivers Trust
Coca-Cola Europacific Partners
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