Laura Sharman 22 January 2018

Getting into a lather over weed control

In a bid to move away from traditional pesticides, many councils across the country have been testing out more environmentally friendly ways of controlling weeds over recent years.

While some have been more successful than others – who can forget Bristol’s use of vinegar which led to complaints from residents about the smell – a council in East Sussex has spent the last six months trialling alternatives to pesticides.

Lewes District Council already has a policy of not using pesticides within children’s play areas but agreed to consider other options around schools, highways and open spaces where possible after receiving a petition signed by 1,500 residents.

In partnership with its contractor Burleys, the council carried out a six-month project testing different weed control options. The overwhelming ‘winner’ was Foamstream, an eco-friendly hot foam weed killer.

Developed by Weedingtech, the near boiling point natural foam acts as a thermal blanket, keeping heat on the weed long enough to kill it. It also contains a wetting agent which enables the thermal energy to penetrate the weeds’ waxy exterior walls, rupturing the cells, killing them quickly. The biodegradable system is safe to use near watercourses and in children’s playgrounds, and can be used in inclement weather.

Andy Frost, parks and cemeteries manager at the council, explains that while it wasn’t quite as effective as glyphosate, the results have been impressive.

‘The Foamstream method that we have adopted is very good. We are finding that weeds require several applications to control them and that weeds with waxy coatings are more difficult to control. However, it is early days and we are experimenting with how long we should hold the lance on certain weeds, and how many times we need to go over a site.

‘The fact is that whilst there is any possible hazard from a pesticide, surely it is better to reduce its use and look at alternatives? The more people that use alternatives, the more alternatives will be developed, tested and improved.’

Burleys contracts manager, Mark Tavener, adds: ‘The hot water foam has proven to be a credible alternative to traditional weed killers although it is not systemic. However, if the weeds are treated correctly with the hot foam it can work quite effectively at eliminating the entire weed for good.’

Mr Frost explains that while the solution does work out more expensive than traditional pesticides as it takes longer to apply, the Foamstream could actually end up generating income for the council.

He says: ‘It can work out more expensive as it can take longer to apply and may need more applications. However, it has the big advantage that it can be used during the winter (making use of staff during a slower period), and the operatives do not need to be certified to apply pesticides.

‘At Lewes, we have a good partnership with our contractor, G.Burleys, and we will be jointly marketing the foam stream and we hope that other authorities and land owners will use the service whilst it is not being used in Lewes – to bring in additional income.’

As well as helping the council to deliver ‘pesticide free’ spaces, the foam also had other advantages.

Mr Frost explains: ‘Obviously the biggest advantage was to reduce the use of pesticides, which is one of the main aims of a lot of Lewes residents. It also allowed us to develop “pesticide free” parks by using the Foamstream.

‘The Foamstream can also be used for removing graffiti and chewing gum from pavements. It is also excellent at removing moss and algae from tennis courts and rubber surfacing in play areas.’

Mr Frost says the council will continue to use the Foamstream machine but will also be looking at any new developments in pesticide free technology.

This feature first appeared in Local Government News magazine. Click here to receive your own free copy.

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