Eden Project u-turns on fake grass following ‘soul-searching’ amid environmental outcry

EXCLUSIVE: The Eden Project will remove the artificial grass installed on its Cornwall site following an outcry about the ecological impact of astroturf and the environmental example set by the institution.

The Eden Project, Cornwall. Image: Pixabay The Eden Project, Cornwall. Image: Pixabay

Last week it emerged that the Eden Project, which states its mission is to  “build relationships between people and the natural world”, had installed plastic grass in a children’s play area to stop them getting muddy. 

Dr Robert Francis, a professor of ecology at King’s College London, told ENDS that his research on astroturf has shown that it can potentially contribute to the risk of urban flooding, and deprive species and soil organisms of habitat.  

He said that other studies had shown that astroturf also “heats up far more than a normal lawn” adding to ‘urban heat islands’, and that there were also issues around the lack of carbon storage in plastic lawns. 

When institutions such as the Eden Project choose to lay astroturf, Francis said that “it sends the wrong message… at a time when biodiversity is declining”.

However, in a u-turn the Eden Project has told ENDS today that it has done some “soul-searching” and has decided to remove any artificial grass on its site.  

A spokesperson said: “We are aware of the environmental impacts of the wider use of artificial grass, and the decision to use a small amount at Eden as a temporary measure was not taken lightly. However, we have listened to the criticism and done some soul-searching - not only about having a small area here but also about the example that this sets to the wider world. 

“We remain committed to using the most sustainable and natural materials we can at Eden. On this occasion we accept that we could have found a better alternative and we have decided to no longer have any artificial grass on our site.”

The Eden Project had originally defended its decision on the basis of health and safety, saying that in the context of a children’s play area, real grass “would become mud within a few hours and therefore would not have been sustainable.”

Commenting, Dr Francis was not particularly moved by this defence, saying that as we have become “much more of a sterilised society, we have gotten to that point where we think any kind of dirt is bad”.

He continued: “The concern is that as we go further along, will it be that everyone thinks that this kind of a plastic lawn is normal, and that nature is a kind of horrible thing because you don't want to go and get dirty?”

Analysis of data on Google Trends by the Guardian last week showed that there was a surge in internet searches across the UK in buying artificial grass during lockdown, and that there is a growing fashion of installing plastic lawns as artificial grass retailers begin to make bigger claims about their environmental credentials.  

According to Francis, lawns can make up a significant amount of city areas, especially in the UK and America. At the moment, the proportion of those which are plastic is relatively small, but if the trend for plastic lawns in private gardens were to take off on a bigger scale Francis said in ecological terms “it would potentially have quite a big impact and there might need to be some sort of policy change”. 

Campaigner Rob Dowling is currently running a petition calling for the government to introduce a tax on astroturf lawns “to act as a deterrent and encourage landowners towards less damaging and more sustainable ‘low maintenance’ landscaping options that are good for wildlife and climate”.

It is not far off reaching the 10,000 signatures required to prompt a government response.

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