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Two more Cambridge wards to become herbicide-free - but campaigners call for city-wide action

A herbicide-free weed control trial by Cambridge City Council in the wards of Newnham and Arbury will be extended to include West Chesterton and Trumpington this year.

Councillors agreed to expand the trial area at its environment and community scrutiny committee on March 23 and to continue the development of the Happy Bee Street Scheme.

Previous herbicide damage to grass verges in the Newnham ward. Picture: Richard Marsham
Previous herbicide damage to grass verges in the Newnham ward. Picture: Richard Marsham

In the four trial wards, the council will use mechanical sweeping and hand tools, such as hoes and spades, in place of herbicide, to manage unwanted vegetation.

Cllr Alex Collis (Lab, Kings Hedges), executive councillor for open spaces, said: “Expanding the trial highlights our commitment to moving towards a herbicide free Cambridge in a way that works best for the whole city.

“Maintaining our streets and open spaces should not have to come at the cost of harming the environment. We hope that this trial continues to show that it is possible to implement other methods of managing unwanted vegetation in our streets and open spaces. This is for the benefit of both people, in terms of their accessibility and safety; and wildlife, including bees and other pollinators.

“The use of non-chemical weed control helps us to work towards our clear commitment to a pesticide free Cambridge. This contributes to our overall aim of improving biodiversity in the city.”

The trial forms part of the council’s Herbicide Reduction Plan, which was adopted in 2022.

The council also stopped using herbicides in playgrounds and parks and other open spaces that it manages in 2019.

Meanwhile, the Happy Bee Streets project encourages communities to look after their own streets without using weed killers.

Julia Shaw and Ben Greig, of Pesticide-Free Cambridge, said: “It’s good news that the herbicide free trials are being expanded from two to four wards, alongside a general reduction of spraying schedules that has arisen in part from the county council’s decision to stop using herbicide to control vegetation growth on the county public highway network.

“Naturally, we would prefer an immediate, hard-stop of council herbicide spraying across the city, but we look forward to continuing to work with and supporting the council to achieve our common goal of a pesticide-free Cambridge, whilst also working with other stakeholders to tackle broader pesticide use in the interests of biodiversity, public health and disability rights, and in ways that compliment Cambridge City Council’s herbicide free trials and street adoption schemes.”

They added: “While we welcome the city council’s commitment to signing up more Happy Bee Street groups, we are disappointed that it did not move to a city-wide herbicide-free highway and pavement management scheme by the end of last year.”

Herbicides are known to damage the surrounding environment and pose a threat to animals, harming or killing invertebrates, which are play a key role in soil health, water quality and the ecosystem. Herbicide spraying can also lead to damage to nearby plants.

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