Amenity grassland is usually intensively managed, closely mown grassland found in parks, sports grounds, village greens or around buildings. It provides a permeable surface and so enables source control and infiltration. Vegetation can filter and trap sediments, which means it can contribute to improving the water quality.
For an overview of the references and further information, see here: Tree Intervention References
Amenity lawns come in all shapes and sizes, but they are almost always accessible and provide patches of green in the urban landscape. They can very easily be used for recreational activities.
Vegetation can be able to trap pollutants and dust, but closely mown lawns are unlikely to contribute too much – rough grassland areas are more likely to have an impact.
A reduction of up to 99% of runoff compared to asphalt is possible, reducing peak flows and flow volume.
However, this may be compromised by high footfall on the area and subsequent compaction as well as soil type. Shrubs and trees can increase performance by improving soil structure.
Strategically placed open green spaces can act as storage for fluvial flooding
Surface temperatures of grassed areas can be 25 degrees lower than asphalt, with an effect on air temperature and so the UHI effect – depending on the size. Additionally, carbon can be sequestered (in plants and soil), but management activities are likely to offset the net carbon benefits.
Invertebrates can find habitat in highly managed grassed areas, for other animals (e.g. birds) it is likely the area would have to be less managed (e.g. transformed into rough grassland). Combined with structurally more diverse GI (for example within a golf course or park), it can provide significant benefits.
The permeable soil allows infiltration and can so promote groundwater recharge.
Sediment and pollutants can be trapped and to an extent degraded in the soil. However, fertilisation and pesticide application can impact water quality negatively – depends on type of management.
Greenspace can improve the visual quality of urban areas. It is very versatile, but a less interesting feature than other interventions.
Potentially important part of cultural spaces, e.g. village greens. Allows cultural activities like picnicking, playing golf, etc. Depends on size and accessibility, although even the view of lawns plays a part in cultural identity and place making.
Lawn areas on properties have been shown to add value to properties, but only when well maintained. Lawn in public spaces can also increase rental prices in a neighbourhood.
Taking up water from their own area and surrounding areas can help reduce the risk of flooding and the extent of flooding on a larger scale.
Considering the Bigger Picture
On the left, you can find an example of how different interventions can be incorporated into the urban landscape. Amenity areas are present along roadsides, under trees, in public open spaces and as recreation grounds.
Grassed areas intercept runoff and allow infiltration while also slowing flows down. Impermeability of urban areas is one of the main factors in exacerbating surface water flooding. The cumulative effect of vegetated areas (which can also include green roofs or, where hard surfaces are necessary, permeable paving) in infiltrating runoff can mitigate this, although it has to be taken into account that waterlogged soils will effectively be impermeable.
Designing amenity areas with surface water in mind can help maximise the benefits. Slightly depressed areas can provide attenuation and collect runoff from additional areas (in effect working similar to detention basins or swales) and keeping open, vegetated areas alongside rivers provides a space to safely attenuate floods.
If the amount of rainfall exceeds the amount that can be taken up by the soil, these areas become waterlogged and therefore effectively impermeable. Combining amenity areas with other structures that either improve their soil structure – for example planting trees – or collect and convey water – like swales, detention basins or retention ponds – is necessary to provide comprehensive management of runoff.
In the picture above, you can see where some of these measures have been taken: there are swales alongside the playing field, leading water into a wetland, and ponds and trees are incorporated into open spaces.
Cost: Grass seed mixture costs: 0.07£/m2 – 0.6£/m2 (Low).
Factors: Instalment of a new lawn may include stripping down old one. Options for establishing new grass area are natural colonisation (minimal cost), grass seed mixtures and turf.
Context:Suitable in all areas, any size, as long as soil infiltration rates are sufficiently high. If high footfall is expected or vehicular access necessary, soil can be structurally strengthened (increasing cost). Infiltration rates depend on soil type and intensity of use. High groundwater levels can slow infiltration down.
To be effective, a fairly high land take is necessary, protection/restoration might therefore be prefereable over new establishment of these types of green spaces where housing density is high.
Costs: 1,600-2,200£/ha/a (0.02-0.22£/m2/a).
Typical maintenance activities: Depends on how it is maintained (hand/gang mown, frequency). Mowing, intensity depends on aesthetic requirements. However, maintenance costs likely to increase proportionally with smaller size.
Trade-offs and Potential Dis-services
Closely mown grasses have the benefit of less risk of triggering allergies. The proximity of greenspace is beneficial on mental and physical health, improving social wellbeing and saving health related costs. Grass areas are main predictors for the potential of a greenspace to have restorative effects (with size of a greenspace being the most important factor), providing stress relief and an “escape”.
Highly multifunctional area that can easily be enhanced by other SuDS/GI and does not have any safety concerns that may come with water bodies.
Poor maintenance may lead to erosion, litter. Dog fouling may become a problem. This can lead to a decrease in the visual quality and also impact the watercourses the area might drain to. Erosion and sediment input can lead to clogging, decreasing the infiltration rate and so decreasing the ability of the area to eliminate runoff. Fertilisation and pesticide use can have negative effects on water quality, care has to be taken to ensure a management and maintenance regime that avoids these impacts.
In dry periods, or even as a natural development, plants may wilt and dry. This can be perceived as ugly, unhealthy or even a fire hazard (depending on the length of grass). Irrigation to counteract this can decrease the ability to infiltrate water, but increases the cooling potential of the area. However, it means a greater demand on water use and energy.
This could to an extent be mitigated by rainwater harvesting on site.
Soft lawns can decrease noise by 3db, providing mental and physical health benefits and so improved wellbeing.
Poor maintenance and design can encourage anti-social behaviour and so have a negative impact on the surrounding areas.
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