‘It’s a non-partisan political issue’: Ban glyphosate weed killer | pesticides

Yellow grass and abnormally bare ground around trees and public paths are increasingly a sight of the past, as the indiscriminate use of the controversial weedkiller glyphosate is being phased out by councils. But changing the appearance of the public realm is not without controversy, with some complaining that the so-called weeds are making urban spaces unsightly.

Widely used in agriculture, the non-agricultural use of glyphosate extends to parks and green spaces, sidewalks and playgrounds, hospitals and shopping malls. Since the WHO declared it a ‘probable human carcinogen’ in 2015, after research found ‘strong’ evidence of its toxicity, 70-80 UK councils have turned to chemical-free options or simply let plants grow, from Bath & North East Somerset council. , to the Highland Council in Scotland.

Nick Mole of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), which campaigns against glyphosate, said that over the past few years an increasing number of councils, “from parish to county”, have implemented small scale trials. scale to prohibit wholesale.

“More and more over the last couple of years, councils have come to us directly and said, ‘This is something we want to do; how can we do it? said Mole.

Biodiversity crisis

Recent research found that glyphosate seriously harms the health of bees, while another report claims EU regulators have rejected evidence linking the herbicide to animal tumours.

“I think there’s been an increase in public interest and of course we’ve had more and more information about the biodiversity crisis,” he said. “I think the councils have seen that this is something their constituents want – and it’s also about councils from across the political spectrum – it’s a very non-party political issue.”

However, the PAN admits some councils later reversed the measures, concerned about the “clean and tidy brigade”.

Brighton and Hove became glyphosate-free in 2018 under the former Labor administration with unanimous support from all parties. However, local Conservative councilors have since started appearing in local newspapers to complain that the reseeding had gone too far.

Green Brighton and Hove Councilor Jamie Lloyd says it’s not about leaving the weeds everywhere, but selectively weeding them out. “It is true that huge weeds growing in the middle of sidewalks are undesirable,” he said. “So what we have to do is remove these weeds manually”

And Lloyd says the comments he hears as he weeds the sidewalks himself indicate it’s “more popular than sensationalized headlines suggest”.

“I agree that you don’t want the sidewalks to be impassable for people with reduced mobility. In fact, the biggest problem for people with reduced mobility is people who park their cars on the sidewalk, which is [a] massive [issue] in Brighton.

Regarding the glyphosate ban, Lloyd says “the benefits are already tangible”, with anecdotally more swifts, swallows and bats seen locally, and a hedgehog spotted in Hove.

He adds: “We are in a biodiversity emergency. We have lost so many insects in the last 20 years – I read [about] down 60%. It’s spectacular and extremely disturbing, it’s the canary in the mine. We have to do everything we can for that, and the first thing we can do is to stop poisoning them.

Protests

Jon Burke was a Hackney councilor responsible for the east London borough which began phasing out glyphosate in 2018, after children protested its use outside the town hall. A borough-wide ban began in 2020.

Burke said, “The main threat presented by glyphosate is that we are removing plants from the public domain in the midst of a mass extinction event.

“The majority of plants growing in the public domain are not weeds, but a mixture of wildflowers and other things. Some of these plants are the only food source for very specific species of insects. What I wanted to do was change the perception in Hackney, and potentially more widely in the UK, of what a clean and tidy public domain is. We grew up with this reaction that any kind of plant in the public domain makes it scruffy and messy – and yet we simultaneously have a high tolerance in the UK for McDonald’s wrappers in the gutters.

Councils have tried different approaches to replacing glyphosate. Bath and North East Somerset stopped using the weedkiller in July last year in favor of manual or machine weeding. A £950,000 Clean and Green campaign has been launched with a dedicated weeding crew, while volunteers can also borrow hoes, brushes and shovels. Councilor David Wood said it had “positive response and support from residents”.

Other councils have tried alternative weedkillers. In April, PAN revealed London councils were using a “toxic cocktail” of 22 potentially harmful weedkillers, including seven that are carcinogenic and nine that contaminate groundwater.

Mole said that while “the use of glyphosate eclipses the use of almost every other weedkiller: it’s cheap, it works, and it’s in a lot of products,” replacing one chemical with another was not not the solution.

He said it’s about finding the best approach for each area, from hand hoeing, raking and weeding, to hot foam, which combines hot water with biodegradable foam insulation to kill plant material. , or even let the plants grow.

Burke thinks national legislation is needed to step up councils’ efforts. “Local authorities shouldn’t just be deciding, in the midst of a mass extinction event, whether or not they play a role in pollinating UK crops or whether we maintain insect populations.

“The ways local authorities might want to do this might differ, but I don’t think it should be optional as to whether you completely sanitize the public realm or not.”

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