In recent years, ecologically sustainable ways of gardening have grown in popularity, but unfortunately, so has the habit of putting artificial surfaces over significant areas of garden. Green spaces improve air quality, hold water back during times of flooding, support biodiversity and so forth. In short, we must work to enrich urban areas and rural areas that people call home. Legislative change to encourage or force people to preserve their green spaces is worth considering.
Gardens that have significant amounts of concrete, asphalt, paving slabs, artificial grass, or other artificial surfaces over them are harming communities because green spaces contribute to human health. Vegetation traps particulate matter and also cleans the air of other pollutants, which are damaging to human health if breathed in. Small, hairy, rough and waxy leaves are particularly good at removing particulate matter from the air. Green spaces have a cooling effect on the micro-climate around them, whereas artificial surfaces tend to contribute to urban overheating.
Heavy rainfall and flooding are likely to occur in the UK much more often in the coming years because of climate change. Green spaces mitigate flooding, by reducing rain-water run-off. Trees, shrubs and long grass are particularly good at preventing water rushing into drains. When floods overwhelm the sewage system water companies are allowed to pump sewage directly into rivers to prevent sewage from overflowing into properties, so measures that are taken to mitigate flooding help to keep UK rivers clear as well.
The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries on earth, so we should take all the steps we can to support biodiversity. It is estimated that one in seven native species are facing extinction and over 40 per cent of species are in decline. Gardens enable people to learn about nature and appreciate its beauty. Creative steps can be taken to give gardens extra functionality, while, at the same time, keeping habitat. For example, two lines of paving slabs can be put in place to allow easy vehicle access, while saving amble space for low-growing vegetation. Green garden spaces also give residents the opportunity to grow food which enhances food security, reduces pressure on farmland and reduces ‘food miles’.
Exactly how laws could be changed to encourage people to keep green garden space is open to debate. Council tax rates could be slightly adjusted to factor in how much garden green space is kept by property owners. Alternatively, planning permission rules could be tightened so that planning permission is required to surface over a garden, because, at present, no planning permission is required for permeable surfacing.
People are extremely protective of their properties and hold dear their rights to do what they want with their gardens, but perhaps community pressure should come into play when a significant amount of green space is surfaced over. Those who preserve their green spaces are playing a useful role in helping us to tackle some of the major issues of our day.
Hopefully, we can think of a good way to help preserve more green garden spaces for health, wellbeing and nature.