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Gardens being uprooted in favour of driveways and artificial grass, new research reveals

Two men riding bikes through flood water in a town.
  • A quarter (25%) of homeowners with outside space1 have turned some of their garden into a driveway
  • One in ten (10%) has replaced their garden’s natural lawn with artificial grass
  • More than half (57%) acknowledge making changes to their outside space may have an impact on the environment  

A quarter (25%) of homeowners in the UK with outside space have turned all or part of their garden into a driveway and a further 17% are planning to make this change, according to new research by Aviva. 

Worryingly, one in seven (15%) has changed part or all of their garden into a driveway with hard, non-permeable material, such as tarmac or paving, which doesn’t allow water to travel through to the soil beneath.

It’s not just driveways that are proving popular. One in ten (10%) homeowners with outside space has replaced at least some of their garden’s natural lawn with artificial grass and a further 29% plan to or would consider making the swap.

Asked why they’ve made these changes, 31% said they didn’t want the upkeep of natural lawn or gardening while 27% wanted to park their car off the road.

However, there are signs that some homeowners are bucking the trend by choosing to re-wild their outside spaces.  One in eight (12%) respondents has replaced part or all of their garden with a wildflower meadow and seven per cent (7%) have gone even further by turning their driveways into a garden with plants and flowers. 

Parking takes priority over environment

But it seems for some of us, having somewhere to park our cars takes precedence over immediate environmental concerns. Although more than half (57%) of homeowners surveyed agreed making changes to their outside space may affect the environment, 39% thought it was more important to have off-road parking than consider any environmental impacts. 

Almost three in five homeowners (58%) thought making changes to their outside space had no impact on flooding in their area. This is in spite of the fact that one in five homes in the UK is at risk from surface water or flash flooding, according to Aviva flood mapping data2.. This seems to be borne out in the research too, with 15% of people surveyed saying their homes had flooded in the past, yet only 16% considered the history or possibility of flooding in the area when buying a new home.

UK homeowners with outside space

What changes have you made to your front or back garden?

Percentage of adults who have done this

Replaced part or all of my garden into a driveway with hard, non-permeable material e.g. tarmac

15%

Replaced part or all of my garden into a permeable driveway e.g. gravel

15%

Replaced my garden with low-maintenance garden

17%

Replaced part or all of my garden with a wildflower meadow

12%

Replaced my natural lawn with artificial grass

10%

Replaced my driveway with a garden with plants and flowers

7%

Hannah Davidson, senior home insurance underwriter at Aviva UK General Insurance, said: “While it’s tempting to turn gardens into a driveway to make room for our cars, these changes can often have a negative impact on wildlife and increase the risk of flooding caused by heavy downpours.

“Flash flooding is harder to predict than flooding from rivers or streams and can happen anywhere and at any time. This looks set to rise as climate change impacts the UK, causing an increased risk from localised torrential downpours.

“As we witnessed last year with London’s flash floods, urban areas are most at risk because a lack of green space can leave rainwater with nowhere to go when the drains are overwhelmed. The impacts of flash floods shouldn’t be under-estimated either. Even a few centimetres of rainwater can have a devastating impact on homes, taking weeks or months to dry out, and many belongings may have to be thrown away.

“And while they may seem like a low-maintenance option, artificial lawns can also cause problems as they are made from plastic with a limited lifespan, so they will eventually end up in landfill. We’d urge homeowners to consider more sustainable alternatives, including using permeable materials, such as gravel, or installing drains or plant borders to allow rainwater to reach the ground. 

Simon Aguss, UK Landscapes Team, WWF-UK, Aviva’s climate charity partner, said: “Making space for nature in our gardens – through appropriate planted borders, occasionally-mown lawns, and even a small tree – is one positive thing we can all do for the environment. 

“And where we need hard spaces, such as a driveway for our family car, we need to make sure these don’t have major negative impacts on the environment, especially adding to surface run-off and increasing the chance of flash flooding. So we all should choose permeable materials over impermeable ones like tarmac and concrete, and make sure any run-off that will still come from these surfaces drains off into adjoining borders and lawns rather than into the road – creating what are known as raingardens.”

Lack of awareness about planning guidelines

To help alleviate the problems caused by replacing front gardens with driveways, Government guidance3 for homeowners was introduced in 2009 on the use of materials. However, it seems awareness of this guidance remains low. Despite being in place for several years, only 14% of homeowners who had made a replacement were aware of the Government guidance on permeable surfaces for front gardens and only 18% sought planning permission when making changes. 

Davidson added: “Climate change is already impacting the UK and heavy downpours look set to increase the risk from flash flooding in our towns and cities. Aviva has called for more collective action to be taken to make sure homes are more resilient to the impacts of flooding and reducing flood risk in urban areas is key to protecting homes in future.”

Aviva has put together advice for homeowners who are considering making changes to their outside space:

  • Choose more permeable materials – using permeable materials – that allow rainwater to soak through to the soil below – can help reduce the risk from flash flooding. These include gravel or block paving.
  • Check if you need planning permission – if you want to change an area of more than five square metres using non-permeable material, such as tarmac, asphalt or concrete paving.
  • Consider making partial changes – having a border around your drive or installing a drain will help rainwater to run off during heavy downpours, reducing the flow of water into street drains, and may help stop water from entering your home.
  • Include a wildflower or natural area in your garden – even the smallest area of wildflowers or more natural planting can attract wildlife and help encourage bio-diversity in your garden.
  • Collect rainwater – consider installing a water butt or other rainwater collection device to prevent water from overwhelming drains.  Plants and wildlife prefer rainwater to tap water too.
  • Check your home’s flood risk – even if your home is nowhere near a river or the sea, it could still be at risk from flooding, so check your home’s status with the Environment Agency.

More information and advice on flooding can be found at www.aviva.co.uk/aviva-edit/surveys-and-reports/articles/building-future-communities

Notes

1 Research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Aviva in June 2022 with 2,012 homeowners with outdoor space. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

2 Aviva Flood Mapping Data 2016-2021

3 Permeable surfacing of front gardens: guidance - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

-ENDS-

Media Enquiries

Liz Kennett

General Insurance — Products and regulation

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