This column has recently featured wildflower meadows and the benefits they bring to both wildlife, such as pollinating insects, and people. It seems though that garden lawns, which can be turned into mini-meadows, are now under threat from artificial grass. Also local authorities and schools are increasingly turning to this medium in preference to real grass, as suppliers report a threefold increase in orders for this pernicious product. Is this another example of our disconnection with nature, preferring instant, maintenance-free gardens for cosmetic effect rather than organic engagement?
This is a real concern for environmentalists. Even a highly fertilised, weed-killer drenched, closely-mown lawn is infinitely better for nature than artificial grass. Worms and other creatures can live within it, they in turn provide food for birds and hedgehogs, and mining bees can dig the tunnels they need to complete their life cycles. Some advertisements claim that artificial grass is ‘indistinguishable from the real thing’ – not if you are a bee or a hedgehog it’s not.
This is not just about wildlife, more general environmental damage is incurred by the manufacture, transport and use of artificial grass. To start with it is a plastic product, made from fossil fuels, which adds to carbon emissions. Increased demand means that more carbon is emitted, and energy is used, shipping it around the word from China and elsewhere. Being virtually indestructible, the turf will not degrade; at the end of its useful life it has to go to landfill (although some is advertised as ‘recyclable’).
To lay it soil, a valuable part of the garden ecosystem, has to be removed and replaced with sand on which the artificial turf sits. Children playing on it lose some of the outdoor ‘natural’ experience which should be part of their childhood. No dirt, mud, or creepy-crawlies, instead a sanitised outdoor version of the inside of their homes.
To be fair proponents of the product claim it is environmentally friendly – it never needs watering (although, despite common misconceptions, neither does real grass), fertilisers and weed-killers are not needed, and there are no emissions from petrol-engined mowers.
I guess you pay your money and take your choice. If you believe though, as many do, that tending a garden brings you closer to nature, and that this has therapeutic, ecological and social benefits, then you will beware imitations.