Mystery surrounds the appearance of hundreds of yards of artificial grass alongside the River Ribble, amid warnings that it poses a major pollution risk to the watercourse.

The material has been rolled out just feet from the river channel on a public footpath that makes up part of the Tolkien Trail in Hurst Green, near Clitheroe.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that the spot – accessed from the rear of the Shireburn Arms Hotel, off Whalley Road –  is under the control of a private landowner.   However, it has not been possible to confirm their identity – and no public body has indicated that it can act upon the concerns raised.

The Bolton News: Image: Google Earth

Fisherman and environmentalist Allan Ferguson told the LDRS that whoever was responsible for laying the fake turf, on the northern side of the Ribble, “might as well have just chucked it straight into the river”.

“This stuff is full of recycled tyres and tiny pieces of plastic. If there is flooding, it will be taken into the river – or even just heavy rain will start washing the plastic and rubber into the water.

“Either way, it’s an environmental timebomb,” warns Allan, who suspects that the synthetic grass is second hand and has probably been part of a football pitch in a previous life.

He is willing to accept that it may have been laid in the location for a good reason, but says that those behind it now need to be “embarrassed” into putting things right.

“Somebody’s rationale might have been quite sound – it may be intended to keep people’s feet clean [on the path] or possibly they have mistakenly thought it will help protect or stabilise parts of the riverbank.  But the actual material they’ve used is absolutely the wrong thing.

“The impact it’s going to have on the environment will be horrendous,” says Allan, who first spotted the phoney turf about a month ago.   Since then, his attempts to get the authorities involved have come to naught.

Another source has told the LDRS that the material may have been in place for more than a year.

The Ribble Rivers Trust – a charity which aims to protect and promote the Ribble for people and wildlife – told the LDRS that they shared Allan’s concerns about the path, which is also part of the Ribble Way long-distance walk.

Chief executive officer Jack Spees said: “Plastics in the environment pose a significant risk to wildlife. Ribble Rivers Trust regularly undertakes river cleans in an attempt to reduce the amount of plastics, including micro plastics, that get into our river.

“As such, it is really disappointing that someone has introduced astroturf into the countryside, especially when there are many natural alternatives. The person who laid [it] may well have had the best of intentions, but reducing plastics is key and we always encourage nature-friendly alternatives.”

The LDRS understands that the Environment Agency does not regard the matter as being within its remit, because the material is not considered to be currently polluting the river nor causing a flood risk.

“Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Lancashire County Council – which is responsible for public rights of way – said: “We are aware that the landowner has laid astroturf in this location and, while it is unusual, we do not believe that this is endangering or inconveniencing members of the public.

“However we will investigate in due course to determine whether it is on the legal line of the public footpath and, if so, whether it is causing a problem to walkers.”