Sustainability and the value of amenity and turfgrass surfaces

If we are to engage with the concept of sustainability, in particular managing a grass surface for sustainability, we can do no better than starting by having an understanding of the difference between the types of grass surface we might be dealing with, as well as the many benefits that are provided by natures beautiful carpet, i.e. natural grass, which has been managed by humankind.

Groundsmanship primarily deals with two main types of grass surface: amenity grass and turfgrass/sportsturf surfaces. These surfaces can be valued for a number of different social, environmental or economic reasons; being able to measure and manage the contributory factors to these values can significantly enhance the prospect of achieving a sustainable pathway and outcome of sustainability.

Turfgrass surface

Turfgrass surface

We can make a distinction between amenity grass and turfgrass / sports turfgrass surfaces as follows:

Amenity grass
Amenity grassland surfaces can be defined as “all grass with recreational, functional or aesthetic value and of which agricultural productivity is not the primary aim”. Amenity grass does not cover grass surfaces used for sporting activities.

This amenity grass definition can be further expressed as that which “improves the quality of an area by contributing to the physical or material comfort of users (as places to picnic, walk, engage in leisure pursuits etc), and which increases the attractiveness or value of its geographic location.”

Turfgrass / Sports turfgrass
Turfgrass surfaces can be either amenity turf or sports turf surfaces. Turfgrass surfaces are those which persist under mown (by mechanical means) situations, routinely provide good ground coverage, survive traffic, and where used for sports provide a satisfactory and safe playing surface.

All sports turf surfaces are turfgrass surfaces, however, not all amenity surfaces can be classed as turfgrass surfaces as they do not meet all the required criteria.

Examples of the values of these different grass surfaces can be categorised into the three sustainability dimensions and have been shown to include:

Social values:
• Health benefits for participants of sports and recreational amenity areas;
• Provides entertainment for spectators, especially with sporting facilities;
• Encourage community interaction and building of communities; reengage people in civic society;
• Leisure activities – picnics, walking, relaxing, general physical activities;
• Improve / maintain health and fitness through action of mowing grass;
• Safety aspects – highway verges providing visibility at junctions, refuge for breakdowns;
• Educational resource, e.g. plant identification, environmental monitoring;
• Provides lifelong learning opportunities to develop from no skills through to advanced skills for industry workers, increasing capability of transferable skills;
• Part of urban heritage and connections with the past;
• Calming, therapeutic, effect of a green surface (a ‘universal harmoniser’);
• Reduces background noise, as it more effective absorbs rather than reflects noise as occurs on harder and non-organic, surfaces;
• Contributes to a more positive overall mental health;
• Reduces grass pollen where regularly mown.
• Crime deterrent by acting as a ‘clear line of sight’ with less hiding places;
• Viewed as a ‘piece of local nature’, allowing connectedness with nature.

Environmental values:
• Carbon ‘sink’ (acting as a net absorber of carbon dioxide);
• Absorb air pollutants acting as a control / reduction mechanism (e.g. from car exhausts);
• Improves air quality;
• Water purifier / filter (cleanses water of pollutants);
• Essential oxygen generator for sustaining life;
• Reduce soil erosion by providing a ’blanket’ coverage;
• Reduces dust and mud production from soil;
• Increasing biodiversity, especially soil biology;
• Reduces opportunities for invasive species colonisation of areas;
• Provides a cooling effect (especially in city ‘heat islands’);
• Reduces sunlight reflectance (i.e. dazzle and brightness) / glare;
• Can act as a flood control function by soaking up heavy rainfall and reducing surface run-off;
• Used for bioremediation / land reclamation of contaminated soils;
• Compliments horticultural plantings in the landscape.

Economic values:
• increase the economic attractiveness and value for an area;
• increases and maintains property values;
• provide employment opportunities;
• develops and maintains a business community through the maintenance of grass surfaces;
• develops a need for education and training requirements;
• improved social working and interactions;
• reduce health costs due to less stress, illness and obesity;
• increase tourism potential.

The extent of these values provides plenty of opportunities for grounds managers to reflect on the criteria and parameters that might be considered within any evaluation of sustainability.


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Chris Gray, 5th February 2017