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Growing Trend for Artificial Lawns Could Mean a Decline in Insect Numbers

    Of course, many people dislike insects and perhaps would not be too concerned about their decline in numbers but, if we really give it some thought, we will start to realize what an important part they play in the eco system.  In the meantime, the trend for artificial lawns is growing in popularity in different parts of the world and that may not be a good thing...

    Sales of fake grass are on the increase for a number of reasons

    • Climate change
    • People spending more time in their back yards
    • Play areas being robust enough for both children and pets
    • Less maintenance time and costs

    But what is the cost to wildlife and especially insects?

    Environmental and conservation experts regard artificial turf as an unnecessary use of plastic (that cannot be easily recycled) and as a poor substitute for regular grassy areas in our back yards and gardens as a vital wildlife habitat.
    One environmentalist, Richard Dowling, says: "My worry really is that modern day agriculture is very intensive so often wildlife does not really belong in the countryside like people imagine.  So for me, gardens are a stronghold.  if insects cannot survive on a lot of farmland, then it is our gardens that we need to make sure are important."
    Here in the UK, there have been petitions drawn up, circulated and signed calling for households to require planning permission to lay artificial turf with others demanding an outright ban on fake grass.  

    Meanwhile, research is being carried out

    Dr. Robert Francis (an ecologist at King's College London) has embarked on a research project to study the environmental impacts of artificial turf.  The research will include studies on microplastic pollution, water run-off, overheating and soil health. He believes that people should refrain from switching to fake grass until the science is clearer, adding that people need to be able to make a bit more of an informed choice about what the potential impacts might be.

    What is the impact on artificial turf companies?

    With all the bad publicity, they are beginning to feel the heat with companies launching recyclable turf and "air purifying" turf.  Next on the horizon is a "carbon neutral" turf.  Mel Wright (director of one company Wonderlawn) insists that companies like his are taking peoples' fears seriously and moving forward.  From next year, his company's products will all be made from polyethylene, making them recyclable.  At the same time, artificial turf companies argue that caring for a traditional lawn is polluting, pointing to gardeners' use of sprinkler systems, fertilisers and petrol-powered lawnmowers.

    What are the experts saying in response?

    One lawn expert, David Hedges-Gower, recommends using a battery-powered mower, opting for a sustainable fertilizer and certainly not worrying too much about watering grass in the summer.  He points out that UK native grasses have an amazing ability to shut down when it is hot, coming back to life once more when it rains.  There has also been a concerted campaign in recent years to leave areas of lawn to grow wild during the summer.  We recently wrote about this when we asked "Is it Time to Have a Less than Perfect Lawn?"

    Why the tidy lawn look is not ideal for the environment

    Damaging wildlife and the environment too.
    • Cutting grass burns lots of fossil fuel.
    • It is noise polluting.
    • It can make the grassy area of your garden virtually sterile.

    It is time to leave your lawn (or sections of it) and let it grow

    If you can let at least some of your grass grow longer, it is probably the single most effective thing you can do in any garden whatever its size to encourage wildlife - especially insects, small mammals, invertebrates and reptiles.  The mini jungle created by long grass gives them a safe haven to hide in while encouraging the growth of wildflowers which are great for the bees.

    Get the best of both worlds by having a natural lawn but one that needs less maintenance and is kinder to wildlife, the environment - and of course the insects too!




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