Cautionary Tales – Change Of Use Ramifications

I used to write for The Water Gardener magazine, as a regular columnist dealing with various problems and Readers Queries. Agony Uncle for Fish lovers! In return for producing the articles, I was given a quarter page full colour advert in a decent slot in the monthly publication, advertising my landscape construction business. My wording was clearly aimed at serious people only, with the line ‘Enquiries welcomed from £5,000.00’ ensuring I did not waste my time on non-profitable or frivolous visits. I did not make any charges for quotations, but filtered out those potential jobs that were of no interest by means of a mini-questionnaire.

Once such person who became a client was a lady doctor (of medicine) living in Epping Forest. She was perfectly clear in her requirements; she wanted an exciting water feature, one with a lot of sound and ‘white water’ leading from the upper level to under the lower level paved/pergola area, a distance of some seven metres (with a ‘drop’ of around 80cm between the two levels).

I sketched up an idea, which greatly enthused her, and subsequently produced working drawings and a plan of the project proposal. I went through all the usual site questions regarding water supplies, power points, access, etc. and produced a full written method statement of how the works would proceed. Also included in this description was the style of the feature, and how I would create such a construction. This included full details of pump size, width of spillways to give the desired effect (the positioning and height of the overhang to each spillway can alter the sound or resonance of the falling water, thereby creating a ‘booming’ sound or ‘tinkling sound’).

The ‘white water’ effect was created by introducing air into the delivery system in much the same way as some fountain heads can do, with air and water being expelled in variable measures. The feature was designed as a 45cm wide x 30cm deep rill, with three different height spillways, each increasing in height/depth the lower it came down to the pergola area, increasing the noise and amount of air bubbles/white water as it descended.

So far, so good. One very happy customer. Delighted. Paid immediately. Move on to the next project.

Eighteen months later, I received a very curt and angry letter from the doctor. I was a charlatan, who had no right advising the public and writing magazine columns. In short – I was a murderer of her fish! Furthermore, if I did not remove the pump and pay for her dead fish immediately, she would instruct her solicitors to take firm action!

For some reason, at some time in the intervening months, she had decided to add fish into the lower/feeder pond (which was much deeper and wider than the spillway rill to accommodate the water required to make the system operate), and was upset and angry that fish would die within hours of being introduced to the pond. She had called in an expert on water gardens who promptly condemned the whole thing as being completely useless as a fish pond. ‘The pump is far too powerful. The amount of water being shifted is far too great, with too much oxygen in the water etc.’

I was able to send her a copy of the original specification, quotation and more importantly, a copy of her instructions for the design and the use to which the feature was required to perform.

I also asked her to tell her ‘expert’ that a simply in-line flow control valve would reduce the flow to whatever he decided was the right flow for any fish, and that there was no need to change an expensive high quality pump just because it was ‘too powerful’. Would he also note that I do not recommend that any fish be introduced due to the lack of light in that area, it being sheltered by the pergola.

The moral of this story is clear. If you are asked to provide a particular type of feature – water or otherwise – with a brief from the client that forms a major part of your quotation and logic when drawing up your specification, especially one that is so precisely designed for a reason and/or site, that any other use should not be encouraged, be sure to put everything in writing – and keep a copy for your records!