Wildflower turf warning issued to gardeners

Tourists admire wildflowers planted in the moat area of the Tower of London - Leon Neal
Tourists admire wildflowers planted in the moat area of the Tower of London – Leon Neal

Wildflower meadows have sprung up across the country in recent years, as conservationists tout their abilities to give pollinating insects and birds a helping hand.

But eco-minded gardeners are being warned they may be unwittingly unleashing microplastics into the environment if they give nature a helping hand by installing wildflower turf.

Many gardeners are laying wildflower turf, rather than planting individually, which can be labour intensive and take several years to establish.

But the majority of wildflower turf, as with other varieties, is laid on plastic netting that releases microplastics into soil as it degrades.

The Turf Growers Association has warned that plastic turf netting could be leading to thousands of tons of single-use plastics being buried in the ground every year.

Microplastics can get into the food chain

“It is very difficult to quantify exactly how much turf is laid in the UK, but it is likely that a significant amount of plastic turf netting is being put into the ground each year,” Richard Owen, the chairman of the TGA, said.

“This causes problems for wildlife, for farmers on whose land the turf is grown, and most seriously, it decays into polluting microplastics that can leach into watercourses and get into the food chain.

“It is for this reason we are encouraging our members to stop using single-use plastic mesh in their turf by 2025 and support calls for an industry-wide cessation.”

Wildflower meadows have been introduced in gardens across the country, including the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral, King’s College, Cambridge and several London councils in recent years.

While it is possible to convert a lawn into a wildflower meadow, it can take years to establish, as the flowers and new varieties fight for dominance with grass. Turf can therefore be a simpler method for those with little time on their hands.

But industry experts say labelling that suggests turf is “degradable” could be confusing gardeners, as the netting will ultimately break down into microplastic as it degrades.

‘Throwback to earlier production methods’

Stephen Fell, who owns Yorkshire-based business Lindum Turf, warned that gardeners often don’t realise that they are adding to plastic pollution in their soils.

“The trouble is, over time the plastic netting breaks down into microplastics and pollutes the soil and can leach off into watercourses,” Mr Fell said.

“But because the net is hidden within the turf and people can’t see it, they don’t know it is there. So, despite people having the best intentions of doing the right thing for the environment, they often don’t realise the damage choosing the wrong product can cause.

“It’s a throwback to earlier production methods the industry likes to keep quiet about. But technology has moved on. We have worked hard for many years to eliminate plastic from our turf, including our wildflower turf, and we believe it is now time for the rest of the industry to catch up.”

Mr Fell said he had seen a threefold increase in sales of his plastic-free wildflower turf, which is made using biodegradable felt, over the last two years.

“Wildflower turf is becoming incredibly fashionable,” he said “It is the only quick, easy, and reliable way to create a wildflower meadow which not only provides a beautiful spectacle to look at, it increases biodiversity and attracts vital pollinators.”

Published by anthonyhayble

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