For over 300 years, the well-manicured lawn has been as British as fish and chips, but it has also had a significant impact on the environment. Luckily, another quintessential British institution, Cambridge University, has taken a stand against the traditional grass lawn in favor of a more biodiverse natural lawn.
In 2019, one gardener at the university sought to replace the 300-year-old traditional lawn at the school with something new — a wildflower garden. The gardener was granted permission from the school, and what was once a lawn half the size of a soccer field quickly turned into a meadow of blooming wildflowers.
A symbol of British wealth and dominion over the land, lawns “come at an environmental cost.” However, all it takes is replacing that lawn with something more natural, and the benefits come rolling in.
The change has two main benefits for the school and the planet. The new meadow requires less maintenance (e.g., less watering, mowing, and fertilizing) than the previous lawn. This saves the school money and the gardeners and landscapers time.
An experiment at the University of Cambridge highlights the environmental cost of a well-manicured lawn https://t.co/DWcWcb21B6— Scientific American (@sciam) August 15, 2023
The lower requirements for water, nutrients, and upkeep also reduce the environmental impact of the meadow. One botanist, Cicely A. M. Marshall, found that the meadow “led to 99 percent less greenhouse gas emissions per hectare than the lawn.” Even better, the meadow flourished with flowers, insects, bats, and more, making it a restored habitat for wildlife.
Cambridge’s meadow is part of the growing anti-lawn trend, which has jumped in popularity as more people learn about the negative consequences of lawns. The movement aims to replace traditional grass lawns with something more natural. This includes planting native species, which animals, pollinators, and insects love much more than a simple manicured lawn.
Landowners can take this lesson from Cambridge: Lawns hurt the environment and demand unnecessary drain on resources. Sam Quinn, a conservation biologist at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, praised Cambridge’s efforts, saying once we let nature take over, “the restoration part is supereasy.”
The beautiful photos of red poppies bursting from the meadow with the King’s College Chapel in the background are showing people that something a little more wild can also be more beautiful. One Twitter user commented: “Beautiful. Just when thoughts of humanity darken my day, out pops nature to show me a better way.”
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