Petition demands Cambridge is made pesticide-free
Ongoing concern that herbicides continue to be used by local authorities in Cambridge has prompted hundreds of people to sign a petition.
Campaign groups Pesticide-Free Cambridge and On the Verge Cambridge are urging Labour city councillors to live up to the manifesto promise they made ahead of the May elections.
They pledged to “champion the elimination of herbicides on public land, including grass verges, and work towards being a herbicide-free city”.
But a walk around Cambridge today demonstrates there is much to be done to achieve that – and to do so the Labour-run city council will need support from the new rainbow coalition at the county council, which dictates the policy on public highways.
Julia Shaw and Ben Greig, from Pesticide-Free Cambridge, said: “Many grassy verges bear the familiar ugly yellow strip attesting to glyphosate spraying 10 to 14 days previously, while plants growing in gutters and pavements, show the familiar yellow splurge – not a pretty look, bad for everyone’s health, and flies in the face of the council’s 2019 declaration of a biodiversity crisis.
“Because it takes a while for plants to die off, people are often unaware that spraying has taken place and this is doubly hazardous.
“We have been asking the council for years to at least put up signage saying that spraying has taken place so that concerned members of the public can prevent their children and pets from interacting with these poisoned areas.”
Herbicides including glyphosate have been linked to a range of major health concerns and can be damaging to biodiversity.
The city council told the Cambridge Independent: “The city council is committed to ceasing the use of herbicides on the green highway verges, and is working in conjunction with county council colleagues to achieve Plantlife (managing grassland road verges best practice) standards for biodiversity, in line with our biodiversity emergency motion.
“In accordance with pledges made in our 2019 motion, we no longer use herbicides in the grounds maintenance regimes of our parks and open spaces.
“The council recognises that our parks, open spaces and road verges provide significant opportunities for habitat enhancement to help buffer and connect the existing network of natural green space already designated and managed for their biodiversity value in the city, including local nature reserves and county wildlife sites.”
But Julia said: “While we welcome the council’s decision to stop spraying in parks and children’s playgrounds, we’ve been told by the council that they still apply herbicides to pathways and around ‘obstacles’ in such places.
“Spraying has clearly taken place this spring, for example, around trees in Lammas Land on the verge alongside Fen Causeway, and this contradicts the council’s commitment to stop herbicide use in parks and open spaces.”
The city council provides a highway management service to the county council, which owns Cambridge’s public highways and is now run by a coalition of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Independent councillors.
The city council spokesperson said: “This service includes the treatment of ‘weeds’ in tarmac and other ‘hard’ highway surfacing, including pavements, to control growth to reduce the likelihood of slips, trips, and falls on footpath surfaces. This is undertaken using herbicide spot treatment, ie applied to target areas of ‘weed’ vegetation only.
“Herbicide weed control is also used in street channels and kerb lines to avoid the build-up of detritus and therefore reduce the risk of flooding.
“The control of weeds also avoids root damage to surfaces especially where there is establishment by woody perennials such as sycamore, elder and buddleia. Herbicide application has been reduced in the street scene and stopped on all green spaces managed by the city council.
“The county council, last month, provided the city council with a specification of when and where herbicides should be applied on public highway assets in the city; and this is now being followed.”
But Pesticide-Free Cambridge said it was frustrated by the “lack of clarity” on when spraying of county verges would stop.
“Alternatives have been in use for some years now. Can we not end city council herbicide use now, as have many other towns?” asked Ben.
A spokesperson for the county council, which has similar arrangements with all the Cambridgeshire’s district councils, told the Cambridge Independent: “We only treat weeds on hard surfaces, such as the kerb line. We do not treat soft surfaces such as verges.
“There is an exception to this when invasive weeds that have the potential to cause harm to humans and livestock. These are risk assessed and spot-treated where necessary.
“We are currently trailing a ‘cut and collect’ approach in some villages across the county. Grass cuttings will be removed, which will affect the fertility of soil and help wildflowers to grow and thrive.”
“Council spraying doesn’t only happen on verges,” said Julia. “Herbicide treatment is also applied to every gutter, and pavement, often resulting in die-off of grass and flowers in adjoining private gardens.”
The campaign groups, which are running a PAN-UK Pesticide-Free Towns campaign, are asking residents to join more than 400 people who have signed the ‘Make Cambridge pesticide-free’ petition at change.org/p/cambridge-city-council-make-cambridge-pesticide-free.
The campaigners are also encouraging businesses, householders, schools and other landowners, such as the University of Cambridge, to ditch both herbicides and insecticides.
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