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The Best Options for Outdoor Surfaces

By: Susan Hunt MA - Updated: 7 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
Eco-friendly Outdoor Surfaces Gardens

Just 20 years ago, most gardens in Britain had a lawn. Usually, it covered most of the garden – with a few bushes, flower beds or features such as a pergola to break the monotony of it all.

But since then, more and more householders have opted to replace their grass with a solid surface of some sort – such as paving, concrete or asphalt. This means they no longer have to worry about the weekly grass cutting – but it is bad news for the environment in a number of ways.

Experts claim that the loss of lawn has become so widespread that it has led to an increase in urban flooding. When lots of rain falls, it can’t be absorbed into the ground as it would have done previously – instead it simply runs off, over-burdening drains and leading to swollen rivers and streams.

Birds and Wildlife Suffer

The demise of the lawn has also brought problems for insects, wildlife and birds. According to the RSPB, the paving-over of gardens has reduced the insects available to birds to feed their young.

It estimates that more than one in five urban gardens in England have now had their luscious lawns paved over.

In fact, the paving over of gardens is regarded as such a serious environmental issue that the government has now introduced new regulations. These mean that you must now apply for planning permission to pave your garden in many cases.

If the area you want to cover is more than 5 sq metres you will need planning consent for a traditional, impermeable surface unless you direct the rainwater to a lawn or border where it can drain naturally.

Permeable Surface Choices

You don’t need permission for a permeable surface because unlike traditional concrete or asphalt, it will still allow water penetration. This allows rain to filter through to the soil below – as it would do with a grass surface.

Fortunately, it has now become much easier to source eco-friendly permeable surfaces – with options from recycled plastic or rubber to special “pavers” which allow you to have a traditional-looking surface such as gravel without the mess that you would normally associate with a loose surface.

Basically, these “pavers” resemble little bottomless cups all connected into a grid. You lay the grid and then fill the cups with gravel. The grid allows the surface to cope with heavy weights, such as vehicles while keeping the gravel contained. Best of all, since the cups or holders for the gravel have no base, rainwater can still make its way through to the soil below.

Gravel is Good

Gravel looks great on a driveway and the new pavers solve the problem of the mess that you can get with traditional loose gravel. Gravel also lasts many decades longer and costs less than either asphalt or concrete.

If you must have a traditional hard surface for vehicle access, then consider simply laying two lines of blocks for the tyre treads and keep the grass surface between them.

You can also get eco-friendly materials such as recycled rubber kerbs or decking boards produced from recycled wood or plastic (or a mixture of the two.)

Recycled rubber is becoming an increasingly popular option for surfaces such as children’s play areas, patio areas and garden paths.

Think About Recycled Rubber

Rubber is a wonderful material which offers both strength and flexibility but until fairly recently it presented a recycling nightmare and discarded vehicle tyres accounted for a high percentage of waste.

But it is now being shredded and cut for a variety of outdoor uses, reducing the amount being dumped. For mulching in the garden it is also less expensive and lower maintenance than traditional wood mulch.

Recycled decking materials made from a combination of plastic and wood fibre are longer-lasting than wood decking because they are resistant to rot – and they don’t need any painting or staining!

Wooden Decking

However, if you must have the genuine article, then try to get recycled timber or at least make sure the timber you use is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), particularly if you want to use hardwood.

Many people like to use timber for walkways and small bridges over ponds but again, you can opt for recyled plastic that looks like timber but creates a use for discarded plastic bottles.

Other benefits of the material include resistance to algae or rotting and the fact that you won’t need preservative or varnish. Best of all, every one-and-a-half metres of raised walkway will divert around 1500 plastic bottles from landfill.

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