Grass, floods and the Emperor’s New Clothes

I don’t live near a river – fortunately I don’t have to worry about flooding…

Are you sure? If you share the unnatural tastes of a TV botanist, explained below, then it’s just possible that you are in fact contributing to the problem.

You see, whenever these terrible floods happen, minds focus on countryside and rivers. But rainfall and its consequences range much further than that. And so does the environmental impact of some of the dafter decisions that people make. So, even if you don’t live anywhere near a river, the underlying causes for flooding may be closer to home than you realize. It could be underfoot.

In fact – next time you pass a school or a playing field, take a look. Is the grass real or plastic?

You may find it hard to tell – the manufacturers of fake grass are now extremely good at imitating the real thing But what they cannot do – and never will be able to do – is replicate the essential role that nature has for our grassed areas as part of our sustainable environment.

You’ve seen how some flooding strategies deliberately divert excess river water onto neighbouring fields to protect local housing? Well, that water does eventually drain away – and the better kept the field, the faster that occurs. It’s because our ground is designed by the world’s finest engineer, nature, to cope with extreme weather. It may take time, but it gets there in the end.

So what’s this all got to do with plastic grass?

Plastic grass is quite simply one or our worst ideas for our environment, and it’s driven by one of the worst traits of modern society, the endless striving for convenience at any cost. But as scientists and environmentalists keep on telling us, our modern trends for concreting our front gardens and using artificial grass leaves rain water with nowhere to go.

So, why do we do it?

Remember ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes”? In that wonderful story, there is a kind of group blindness to the facts that are in front of everyone – the Emperor is in fact naked. And it is the same with plastic grass; poorly-researched journalism and hyped-up lifestyle TV have persuaded many of us that plastic grass is great.

Take the well-known TV botanist I met at an awards event where my book, Modern Lawn Care, was shortlisted. He’s a lovely chap and is renowned for his pro-nature views on everything. So I must admit I was surprised to be told: “I like grass, but I don’t like lawns”. But then I had to be picked up off the floor when he didn’t just admit to the artificial grass he used in his London garden – he boasted about it.

Come on! Who honestly likes plastic grass? You like plastic plants in your garden? You think grass-like prongs made from petroleum-based materials are good for your garden and all the diverse wildlife that depends on it? You think it’s ok to cover vast planted areas – literally the size of football pitches – with plastic? You’re happy to send your children to schools that have forgotten how the simplest living creature can provide hours of fascination and learning opportunity for young minds?

Of course you don’t. Sure, there are discrete places where an artificial substitute does make sense – places where grass simply won’t grow or where it is impossible to reach and maintain it (although even there you can find wonderful living alternative requiring little to no maintenance). So why does no one talk of the obvious issue – sustainability?

Sustainability is the vital but missing piece of the jigsaw

Oh yes, we’re all ‘into’ sustainability aren’t we? Nowadays many of us are at least aware if not influenced by the origins of our clothes (think of cotton farming and faraway child labour…) and of the importance of reforestation to replace trees felled for paper, furniture and other essentials. We’re all madly into recycling. And even with this appalling flooding, we’re still conscientious about saving water.

And all of that is because we have a collective conscience, driven by common sense and shared responsibility for what we leave to our children and grandchildren. But this message somehow hasn’t yet reached the manufacturers, promoters and users of plastic grass. They conveniently bypass the fact that every lawn replacement project is destroying part of our country’s natural outdoor fabric. They don’t tell us the truth.

Result – an environment that is increasingly out of kilter…. I mean, I even saw a recent photo showing an artificial turf football pitch that had been washed away in the floods. So, thanks to short-sighted business or local government decisions, there is now a vast piece of totally unnecessary chemically-based product adding to our landfill – and yet more very expensive plastic turf to be bought!

So, when we next see pictures on the news of people struggling with the worst imaginable experiences, let’s remember that everything in our environment is connected. When we abuse one little part of it, the repercussions can reach far and wide. Instead, remember that every hour you spend looking after your lawn means you are playing a significant part in helping to maintain natural water-seepage underground, prevent some of this terrible flooding and maintain some kind of delicate biodiversity balance. Well done you! I mean it.