London gardens go grey as greenery disappears

by Rhiannon James

Greenery is disappearing from London gardens at an alarming rate as city dwellers opt for hard landscaping such as decking and paving, according to a new report.

The study, carried out by London Wildlife Trust, found that 3,000 hectares of vegetation, an area 21 times the size of Hyde Park, disappeared from the capital’s gardens between 1998-1999 and 2006-2008, while hard surfacing increased by 26% or 2,600 hectares. The area covered by garden buildings increased by 55% during the same period.

The move from lush vegetation to hard landscaping could have a serious impact on wildlife and on the city’s ability to cope with the consequences of climate change, according to Mathew Frith, Deputy Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust.

“The loss of vegetation will have an adverse impact on the ability of wildlife to survive and to navigate around the city. Also, hard surfacing holds more heat than vegetated surfaces and then releases it at night which over time will contribute to the urban heat island effect. You’ve also got the additional impacts of surface water run-off, less particulate pollution being absorbed and more dust in the air,” he says.

Private gardens cover 37,900 hectares or nearly a quarter of Greater London. Of that land, 22,000 hectares is now covered by lawn, trees or other plants, as compared to 25,000 hectares in 1998-1999.

Removal of lawns accounted for the largest loss of greenery, with 2,200 hectares being lost, although trees and other plants were also removed, according to the research. On average, nearly two-thirds of a London front garden and nearly a quarter of a back garden is now covered with hard surfacing. In this context, every small area of planting that can be retained or added to gardens in London helps, according to Frith.

“We recognise that for many people gardening is onerous in terms of time, skills and costs so quite understandably, there has been a move to low-maintenance, low-cost gardens. But there are still simple things that can be done to help such as having some potted plants or creating a strip next to a wall or fence for some climbers or low-maintenance plants. Then at least there’s something in the garden which gives a little bit of vegetation the chance to thrive which will benefit wildlife as well,” he says.

The study, London: Garden City?, which was carried out by London Wildlife Trust in partnership with Greenspace Information for Greater London and the Greater London Authority, was based on a comparison of aerial photographs of London from two different periods, 1998 -1999 and 2006-2008.


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