Sweden island Gotland crowns ugliest lawn in contest to conserve water

As a record-setting drought dries lawns across Europe, one Swedish municipality opted to promote its water conservation efforts and change social norms with an “ugliest lawn” contest.

The Swedish island of Gotland is a popular vacation spot, but the influx of tourists this summer has strained water supplies, according to the Guardian. To help conserve water, the municipality implemented an irrigation ban, preventing residents from watering their lawns.

To help win over the community, the “Gotland’s Ugliest Lawn” competition was launched to make a brown lawn something to be proud of. Competition judge John Mattisson called it a “fun way to change the norm of green lawns in a climate where they’re not natural” in a statement.

Such efforts have apparently worked: Water consumption has dropped enough that the irrigation ban will be lifted on Sept. 1, said competition judge Johan Gustafsson to The Washington Post.

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Contest entries were made through Instagram.

“The work of following and finally crowning the ugliest lawn of the year on Gotland has been a fun assignment during the summer months,” Mattisson said in a statement. “No grass and barely a carpet says a lot about this year’s winning entry.”

Out of several truly ugly entries, the eventual winner was Marcus Norstrom, who was dedicated to preserving water. Norstrom evidently did not water his lawn the entire summer, turning it into the opposite of what society defines as the picturesque lawn; his lawn is sparsely covered in grass, with the few remaining blades a sickly shade of yellow.

In a statement, the team of judges said the winner was “a really lousy lawn that lives up to all our expectations of Gotland’s ugliest lawn and has good conditions for a more sustainable improvement.”

The competition’s prize was a visit from local gardener Sara Gistedt, who also was a contest judge. She will help Norstrom plan a drought-resistant garden.

More locals in Gotland may need to consider planning drought-resistant gardens, as a 2022 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED) notes that climate change will only continue to cause water shortages on the island already parched.

“Water availability is projected to decrease by 13.3% for Gotland between 2021-50 compared to 1961-90 and estimates suggest that demand will increase by more than 40% by 2045,” the report reads.

Data from the European Drought Observatory (EDO) shows much of Sweden, including the island of Gotland, is experiencing drought conditions that have caused a soil moisture deficit, meaning that vegetation will struggle to grow.

The dry conditions are hardly localized to Sweden, this summer. Most of Europe is facing some level of drought conditions along with above-average temperatures. Across the continent, rivers are down to their lowest levels in centuries, and farmers are struggling to meet expectations.

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Unusually dry conditions in Europe’s potato belt — which includes parts of France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium — may lead to the worst-ever potato harvest in the European Union, likely pushing up prices of the staple, according to Reuters.

Wine production is also at risk of being altered. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, intense heat and a strong lack of rain have caused farmers to expect a decrease in production of up to 20 percent in some areas, according to the Associated Press.

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