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Parking for wildlife

Image: John Day

Increasing number of cars on our roads has increased the demand for off-road parking. Paving over your front garden to creat a parking area has hidden financial and aesthetic costs, as well as a potentially negative effect on wildlife and the environment.

The costs of parking

  • As the ground dries beneath paving, there can be an increased risk of house subsidence.
  • Houses in leafy suburbs are often perceived to be more desirable. Some sources suggest that paved front gardens can reduce house prices.
  • Paving gardens increases water run-off. Where this involves lots of gardens, this can result in localised flooding and the overloading of local sewage systems. The excess sewage may then be pumped into rivers, and can lead to large scale damage to wildlife.
  • Removing vegetation reduces absorption of aerial pollutants and removes resources fro insects and birds. Heat absorbed by hard surfaces during the day is released at night, causing uncomfortable humid conditions in urban areas.

Alternative surfaces

If you create additional off-road parking, think carefully how much room you need and limit the area taken over by hard surfaces. Use alternative permeable materials and integrate and retain as much vegetation as possible.

  • A range of materials are available that provide a safe hardstand area, but still allow drainage.
  • Where car movement is frequent, matrix pavers can be used. These are made from recycled plastic and shaped into hexagonal cells, which can be filled with aggregate or resin-bonded gravel.
  • You can buy reinforced materials for areas of grass that create a durable surface suitable for parking on. These are constructed from concrete or hard plastic to form a honeycomb structure with cells that can be filled with soil and then seeded. They also allow water to drain away.
  • Interlocking block pavers can be laid onto a compacted mineral sub-base, permitting water to run through the gaps.

Retaining and restoring green cover

Here are a few things ideas to consider when making space for additional car parking.

  • Retain as much existing vegetation as possible and look at opportunities to increase it. Dead spaces around edges, against walls or fences can be planted with hedging, climbers and wall shrubs.
  • If using permeable membranes, create a planting pocket by cutting a slot in the membrane and filling the pocket with soil, planting and covering with gravel. Young plants can be planted into soil filled cells of matrix pavers.
  • On existing hard surfaces, look to remove sections, backfill with soil and peat-free compost and reinstate plants.
  • Some plants, such as thyme or bugle, can tolerate being parked on. Drought tolerant plants such as periwinkle, lamb’s ears and cotton lavender fare better in dry conditions.
  • Reinforced lawns, unlikely to be subjected to continual hard wear, can be sown with fine grasses and perhaps enhanced with a mix of meadow flowers.

Find out more

For more detailed information on parking for wildlife, click on the link to the right and download the Royal Horticultural Society's leaflet on front gardens.