Something deeply worrying is happening in my suburban neighbourhood... In the last year alone, six front gardens in my local area have been completely stripped and are now a monoculture of paving block, astro-grass, bark and stone chip, with very little in the way of any living habitat remaining. Regrettably, my localised worries aren't just restricted to the cosy suburbs of Kelvindale; front gardens are being lost throughout the UK at an alarming rate. Interestingly, London appears to be leading the race, where it is estimated that over two-thirds of the city's front gardens have been paved, either in part or in full.
The loss of the quintessential British front garden certainly isn't going unnoticed... The Royal Horticultural Society, which undertook polling to investigate the seriousness of this issue, reports that the number of paved or gravelled front garden has tripled in the last ten years. Notwithstanding the environmental impact associated with an increase in flooding and emerging concerns regarding regulation of pollution and urban temperatures, if this seriously concerning trend continues unabated, what is going to happen to our urban wildlife if we remove our gardens?
But who and what is to blame for the abandonment of this suburban tradition? Some sources partially blame two decades of TV programmes encouraging homeowners to replace their gardens with parking areas, decking, patios and a myriad of artificial water features. From a personal point of view, I’ve been mulling over this very question for a number of years…
I’m an avid gardener (as you can see from the central garden in the picture below), although as an ecologist, both my front and back garden lean very heavily towards the untidy wildlife side - much to the irritation of my neighbour upstairs, who really does appreciate an ornate ‘treeless’ garden! It was probably due to my love of gardening that the very answer to my question didn’t immediately come to mind - the younger generation just aren’t interested or do not attribute a value to spending time in a front garden. Certainly, it’s getting to the point that I’m now able to predict which of my local neighbourhood gardens will be uprooted and converted into a mono-block parking area - it starts with an loss in garden condition and typically ends with a one week landscape and mono-block conversion.
My garden is home to amphibians, small mammals, birds, insects and a wide variety of other invertebrate species and that’s just my garden! So when we take a cumulative view on the issue, I'm left wondering how long is it going to take decision-makers to realise that the loss of urban green space is as serious an issue as the loss of any other important habitat for wildlife? More importantly though, how do we stanch the loss of this important wildlife habitat? As an increasing number of privet hedgerows, lawns, mature trees and herbaceous borders are grubbed up to make room for driveways, perhaps one solution would be to place the burden of duty on local authorities to regulate garden conversions - in the same way a homeowner has to apply to the council to extend their homes or drop the pavement outside of their home? I’ve heard some sources say that our local authorities can’t bear the burden of such a system but when we consider about the alternative, who else are we going to turn to in order legislate and enforce the protection of such a valuable and important habitats.
Image Credit: TETRIX Ecology & Google Maps