How eco-friendly are artificial lawns?
With no need for running water or polluting pesticides, synthetic lawns are more environmentally friendly than many people realise.
With their reputation for durability, easy maintenance, and a natural looking appearance, artificial lawns have continued to grow in popularity across the UK, with some companies seeing 50% increases in sales each year.
However, in recent years, there has been some backlash against the industry, with some people claiming that the growth in artificial lawns is threatening Britain’s wildlife. So how much truth is there in these claims, and should we be worried?
Wildlife friend or foe?
The main argument levelled against synthetic lawns, is that they do not provide a suitable habitat for plants and animals to live and thrive. Of particular concern to some wildlife organisations is that the widespread adoption of artificial lawns will mean that birds will no longer be able to dig for worms – this could prove fatal to the birds and have a knock-on impact on the local ecosystem.
All of this has some truth to it. By its very nature, artificial grass does not provide a suitable home for animals, nor can it be used as a foraging site for food. However, in reality, the majority of lawns in the UK are relatively small and harbour little wildlife. Most of the wildlife is instead found around the borders of the garden, in plant beds, trees and hedges and, with this in mind, an artificial lawn can actually help to develop your garden into a wildlife haven.
An artificial lawn is incredibly low maintenance, so rather than spending hours mowing the lawn, digging up weeds, or reseeding bare patches, gardeners can instead concentrate on building a more nature-friendly garden. For example, incorporating features such as wildflower areas, bog gardens and bird feeding zones can really help animal and plant life to thrive.
It’s also worth noting that while artificial grass is not habitable for animals, neither is it actively harmful. Tests have shown that the antimicrobial components used in many synthetic grasses are safe for both birds and mammals.
Artificial lawns also have a number of environmental benefits which need to be taken into account when assessing their impact on nature.
Unlike synthetic grass which requires very little maintenance to stay looking at its best, real lawns need a lot time, love and attention to maintain a lush, green appearance. In particular, they need to be watered regularly to avoid developing brown or yellow patches, and during periods of hot, dry weather this water has to come from a hosepipe. In comparison, all an artificial lawn needs is the removal of leaves and debris and an occasional brushing with a stiff brush.
Waste water is a big environmental issue and, as climate change progresses and extremes in temperature become more frequent, is set to move even higher up the agenda – so anything that helps to save water has to be a good thing.
Another big issue with real lawns is the use of fertilizers, weedkillers and pesticides. During wet weather, these chemicals can run off with the water, causing imbalance to other living systems, polluting waterways and in many cases proving toxic to local wildlife populations. With no need for the use of pesticides or fertilizers, synthetic grass offers a safer, more eco-friendly alternative.
As with any product, there are advantages and disadvantages to artificial grass and these have to be weighed up carefully. But if you are considering installing an artificial lawn, don’t let the perceived threat to wildlife put you off. An artificial lawn needn’t mean the end of wildlife in your garden – with careful planning and a bit of imagination you can create a nature-friendly space to be proud of.
Chloe Cotton is editor-in-chief at The Happiest Homes, a leading UK digital home magazine.
August 16, 2016