A GARDENING centre manager is expecting a "short term sales boom" ahead of Thames Water's hosepipe ban on April 5 - but warns of tough times ahead if the severe drought continue.

Andy Dicks, from Sheeplands in Hare Hatch, is forecasting a rush from casual gardeners on water storage and retainer products, as well as plenty of inquiries from pond owners, particularly those with expensive fish.

He said most experienced gardeners and allotments groups already have reserve systems but fears Sheeplands will suffer if Thames Water bring in restrictions on commercial water use - should the rainfall remain low.

Mr Dicks said: "In the short term I suspect a bit of a sales boom. But going forward there is concern. We would obviously get less business if people are gardening less but we also grow a certain amount of the products we sell. It could have a real affect on us."

Alyson Chorley, from the Beech Hill-based Thrive gardening project for disabled and disadvantaged people, said it will not be affected because as a charity, it is classed as commercial use.

She also stressed blue badge holders are exempt, and added: "Part of what we are about is supporting people gardening at home and if you are an older or disabled person, it is difficult for you to carry a watering can."

Thames Water is one of seven companies in the south and east of England to announce bans this week after one of the driest two-year periods on record.

The Pang is running at just a third of its long-term average flow and has dried up completely upstream of Bucklebury to its source in Compton.

The restrictions include a ban on hosepipes being used for gardening, recreation uses - such as filling swimming or paddling pools - or cleaning purposes. Customers can still water their gardens and clean their cars, provided they use either a watering can or a bucket.

Thames Water chief executive Martin Baggs added: "Anyone who willfully breaches the terms of the water-use bans can be prosecuted. And we will do that if necessary."