Eco-friendly gardeners should be given a cut in their council tax, scientists have recommended, as research shows cities may have lost as much as 50% of their green garden space over the past two decades.
Paving over gardens and using plastic grass has become a trend in recent years, which contributes to rising urban temperatures and biodiversity decline.
Now, research from the University of Sheffield has suggested policymakers should offer incentives such as council tax or water bill discounts to encourage gardeners to use environmentally sensitive techniques to help combat climate breakdown and boost communities’ health and wellbeing.
Prof Ross Cameron, an expert in landscape horticulture at the University of Sheffield and the author of the paper published in the journal Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, suggests financial incentives should be given to gardeners who ensure the area around their home is well-stocked with plants.
Cameron said: “Gardens account for a third of all our urban areas and are vital spaces in terms of keeping our buildings and city environments cool in summer, absorbing rain to avoid flash flooding and providing an important refuge for wildlife.
“Gardens need to be green and full of plants to be beneficial to the local environment, and some types of garden are more beneficial than others.”
“The paradox is that many gardens are not actually green and some trends in garden design can be very damaging for the urban environment. We have paved them over to house the car, or provide sterile patio space; factors that increase urban temperatures and increase flooding risk.”
The study recommends that rewards for sustainable gardening could include reductions to council taxes, water bills or assistance with resources. Cameron suggested offering these payments or discounts to house owners with more than 50% of their garden space planted.
The report also suggests that banning environmentally damaging materials such as pesticides, or practices such as installing astroturf, could also benefit the environment.
Traditionally private garden management has been up to the homeowner, but Cameron says a more radical approach is needed to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity loss at a city level.
He said: “Our research shows that some cities may have lost as much as 50% of their ‘green’ garden space over the last two decades. Many residents use artificial grass that kills much of the soil life underneath it, and when real plants are present, we wrongly assume we need to hit them with a cocktail of chemicals to keep them alive and free of pests. These chemicals pollute our watercourses and damage the ecological function of our gardens”.
Prof Helen Woolley, head of the department of landscape architecture and also at the University of Sheffield, added: “The value of this research is it categorically states the value of a particular landscape type and how that links to different socio-environmental agendas. Many citizens quickly realised the value of their home gardens during the pandemic lockdowns, and this academic paper builds on and reinforces what we learned then. It is important that policymakers and planners take note.”