Lawns hold the key to helping gardeners mitigate the effects of climate change – and they even store CO2

Johnsons Lawn Seed highlights the environmental benefits of lawns, which can now be kept lush and green without gardeners having to use chemicals

The nation’s lawns look set to play an increasingly important role in mitigating the effects of climate change on UK gardens, according to Johnsons Lawn Seed, which is today revealing the full extent of the environmental benefits of grass.

While considerable research has highlighted the roles that peat bogs play in acting as carbon sinks, and thrown the spotlight onto forests’ unrivalled ability to store carbon and prevent it from contributing to climate change, it is a little known fact that lawns also sequester carbon underground – playing a role in fighting the climate emergency. Lawns are nature’s natural drainage system, reducing the risk of flash flooding in built-up areas, while enhancing biodiversity by creating habitats for insects. The benefits don’t end there: grass can keep cities cooler in a warming climate, prevent erosion by improving the soil structure and can even help to alleviate the effects of noise pollution in busy areas.

Johnsons Lawn Seed’s Guy Jenkins said: “Gardeners regard themselves as custodians of the planet and increasingly strive to cultivate plots in a manner that’s kind to the environment. We are focusing on the critical role that lawns play in eco-friendly gardening, from absorbing CO2 to preventing flash flooding. In the past, the use of chemicals and fossil fuel-burning petrol lawnmowers may have negated the environmental benefits of grass, but it is now easy to maintain a fine sward using natural, organic fertiliser such as Johnsons Super Smart Lawn Feed, while the switch to clean, battery-powered and robotic lawnmowers is driving a green revolution in lawncare. It’s time to champion the great British lawn and celebrate the role that grass can play in protecting our precious planet.”

Here, Johnsons Lawn Seed reveals five key ways in which lawns help to protect the environment and enhance our wellbeing:

1) Grass can lock away CO2

According to National Geographic, 20 to 40% of the world’s land area is covered by grassland. The Horticultural Trades Association reports that the combined area of the UK’s domestic gardens is about eleven-and-a-half times as big as the Isle of Wight. With lawns forming the backbone of the nation’s gardens, grass plays a critical role in carbon dioxide reduction. It is claimed that lawns annually take in about 5% of the carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, helping to reduce its contribution to global warming (according to a report called ‘Assessing soil carbon sequestration in turfgrass systems using long-term soil testing data’, published in the journal Soil Science of America).

Another report, called ‘Grasslands more reliable carbon sinks than trees,’ based on research from the University of California, told how forests consume a quarter of the CO2 produced globally by humans – but explained that growing incidences of wildfires have turned forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources. The report explained: “Unlike forests, grasslands sequester most of their carbon underground, while forests store it mostly in woody biomass and leaves. When wildlfires cause trees to go up in flames, the burned carbon they formerly stored is released back to the atmosphere.” While forests store more CO2 than grass, wildfires that recently ravaged Australia and parts of the Amazon hit home the importance of alternative carbon sinks such as lawns.

2) Lawns are nature’s natural air conditioner

Our planet is heating up. National Geographic reported that the period from 2014 to 2018 saw the warmest years ever recorded in the 139 years that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has tracked global heat. Organisations including the NOAA, NASA and the Met Office declared 2016 as the warmest year recorded, while the World Meteorological Organisation has confirmed that 2019 was the second hottest on record.

With summer heatwaves predicted to become commonplace as climate change accelerates, lawns can help to reduce temperature extremes in built-up areas by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it slowly during the evening. According to The Lawn Institute in America, the “cooling properties of turf are so effective that temperatures over turfed surfaces on a sunny summer’s day will be 10 – 14 degrees cooler than over concrete or asphalt”. That’s why walking barefoot on grass in summer is a pleasure, whereas stepping on baking hot paving can be an unpleasant experience.

3) Grass is an efficient oxygen generator

As lawns grow, the process of photosynthesis results in grass taking in carbon dioxide from the air and producing oxygen. While much is written about plants’ ability to generate the oxygen that we breathe, and houseplants’ role in cleaning-up the air, the efficient oxygen production capability of lawns is frequently overlooked. According a study by the University of Maryland (called Maryland Turfgrass Survey: An Economic Value Study), a 25-square foot area of healthy lawn produces enough oxygen each day to meet the needs of one adult. That means a 100 square ft lawn will provide sufficient oxygen to supply a family of four!

4) Lawns reduce flash flooding

Flash flooding is a growing menace in the UK’s towns and cities. The phenomenon occurs when torrential rain falls so fast that the ground and drains cannot cope, turning roads and residential areas into rivers. Paved gardens, and in some cases areas laid to synthetic lawns, cannot absorb the volume of rainfall that grass naturally controls, leading to water run-off. With 80% of a grass plant comprising root, lawns play a vital role in stabilising soil structures and preventing erosion during deluges – especially on embankments or steep inclines.

However, a study by the Royal Horticultural Society revealed that more than 4.5million front gardens now contain no plants whatsoever, while a quarter of front gardens – a feature of suburbia that traditionally contained lawns – have been totally paved over. To help gardeners cultivate lawns even in difficult environments, Johnsons Lawn Seed offers a market-leading portfolio of products: from Tuffgrass with Dog Patch Resistance to Shady Place, After Moss and ultra durable General Purpose Lawn Seed, there’s a mix that’ll thrive, providing a valuable alternative to paved gardens that will reduce the risk of flash flooding.

5) Noise pollution can be softened by lawns

Whether it’s the din of passing traffic or the roar of aircraft overhead, noise pollution has a detrimental effect on our ability to enjoy the tranquillity of gardens. It is estimated that lawns can decrease noise levels by eight to 10 decibels, as the soft surface absorbs some of the sound, whereas soundwaves bounce of hard surfaces such as concrete and paving.

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