18 April 2024

Banning urban pesticide use

Banning urban pesticide use image
Image: Mariana Serdynska / Shutterstock.com.

RSPB and PAN UK are working on a letter from local councillors calling on the Government to introduce a national ban on urban pesticide use. Find out more below.

Most local councillors – and many officers – will tell you that ‘weeds’ is one of the words most frequently found in their inboxes, alongside ‘bins’ and ‘parking’. Often, these emails will be about overgrown weeds on pavements. However, thanks to campaigners’ efforts in the UK, another request has been added to many councillors’ caseloads: for the council to stop using harmful pesticides due to concern about the negative impacts on human health and the environment.

Pesticide use in urban areas only constitutes approximately 10% of the UK's total pesticide usage, but it is the second most common route through which people are exposed to pesticides (after diet). The vast majority of the chemicals used by councils are herbicides or ‘weedkillers’ and they are sprayed in a wide range of areas including on pavements, around housing estates and in parks and playgrounds.

Over 100 local authorities across the UK have already either ended their use of pesticides or taken significant steps towards doing so. From Westminster to Newcastle, Devon to Renfrewshire, the progress made by these councils is hugely significant and demonstrates that there is a strong desire amongst residents and within local government to reduce chemical exposure and protect the environment from harmful pesticides. However, all they have achieved has been done so without any leadership or support from the central government or devolved administrations.

That is why The Pesticide Collaboration is launching a new campaign calling for a national ban on pesticide use in public spaces in our villages, towns and cities and urging councillors to sign a letter to the Government calling for its support. Councillors are hugely important in this debate and have the potential to drive this change in the UK. With their help we can follow the example of France, who have banned pesticides from urban areas, without risking infrastructure or reducing accessibility.

The most commonly used pesticide by councils is the herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate was designated as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ by the World Health Organisation in 2015, and is increasingly being linked to Parkinson’s. Pesticides not only harm our health, but can also cause environmental damage and pose a threat to wildlife. The use of pesticides in towns and cities reduces the areas that wildlife, including birds, insects, bees and hedgehogs, can rely on for food and shelter. They can also poison our pets and tend to run off hard surfaces, such as pavements, further contaminating water courses and harming aquatic life.

There are many non-chemical alternatives available for controlling weeds, and a range of solutions have been adopted by councils across the UK. Pesticides can be replaced with non-chemical alternatives such as hot water, foam and brushing. Others are providing more assistance to community groups and volunteers to clear areas that have to be maintained for accessibility or infrastructure reasons. Usually, it is a combination of techniques that provides the greatest level of success. It is also possible to save money by going pesticide-free.

The Pesticide Collaboration is calling for councillors to sign on to a letter to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs urging him to introduce a national ban on urban pesticides.

A councillor who has already signed the letter said, ‘The recent State of Nature report makes very clear that we are losing insect species at an unsustainable rate. We depend on a healthy ecosystem for our very survival. Glyphosate presents a danger not just to insects, but also to human health. As a town council, we have pledged to phase out the use of pesticides and herbicides on all council-owned land by 2025 and we expect our Government to take a lead on this.’

It is crucial to demonstrate the strength of feeling from councillors who want to end the use of pesticides in our playgrounds, parks, streets and other urban public spaces. You can sign the letter via this form.

As the public increasingly understands the role that urban areas have to play in helping to alleviate the current biodiversity crisis, more people are coming out in support of greener public spaces. One day soon, councillors will find that their inboxes are full of emails complaining about pesticide use and celebrating ‘Pavement Plants’.

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