WEED KILLERS – JUST COSMETICS? – By Gilly Webber, Owner of Hut Therapy B&B, Nr Lewes, East Sussex

Pesticides are widely known to be linked to serious human health problems.  Dozens of pesticides used in the public and domestic domain have been associated with illnesses from leukaemia, to neurological and reproductive disorders.  (Refer to http://www.pan-uk.org/files/public_briefing_for_webv2.pdf.) The most well known of these is glyphosate – marketed as Round Up and produced by the chemical giant Monsanto.  This is also the most widely used weed killer in the UK. In March, 2015, it was cited by the World Health Organisation as a “probable” human carcinogenic  but it is also known to harm wildlife, including insects (such as bee and other pollinator species), earthworms, fish and amphibians.

Weed killer use accounts for approximately 94% of pesticide use in UK towns and cities – it is used mainly on our streets, parks and open spaces  – that is for cosmetic use. Paris, Copenhagen and Seattle are among major cities around the world that have already stopped using pesticides in their parks and other public spaces.   France has been leading the way: Paris took this step over a decade ago and over 300 other towns and villages across France have stopped – and a further 350 are in the process of stopping.  Also, Denmark and the Netherlands have recently introduced a complete ban on non-agricultural uses of glyphosate following the success of local restrictions.  This raises the question:  do we need to kill weeds and keep them in check in the UK, as much as we do?

There are very good arguments for leaving weeds in our towns & cities.  Health is one.  But also, the dwindling population of pollinating insects in urban areas is another. The UK government recently launched a new National Pollinator Strategy with one of the key recommendations being the need to increase habitats for pollinators in urban areas. We need to reduce the amount of pesticides used and leaving areas that are sprayed to grow bee friendly food sources. Weeds also provide food and habitat for a great number of species, including bees.
Several cities in the US and Canada where pesticide use has been seriously restricted in parks and public spaces or stopped altogether have also demonstrated it can be done. There are tried and tested non-chemical techniques available to replace pesticides and deal effectively with weeds in public places. Indeed, mechanical processes, such as flame, foam or hot water treatments are known to be just as cost effective as pesticides; and then there is hand weeding with a good old fashioned hoe; or, we can just accept a higher level of ‘weediness’ – as they have in Paris.
PAN is a a network of over 600 participating non-governmental organisations, institutions and individuals in over 90 countries working to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. PAN UK argue there is no plausible excuse for the UK not following the route of more progressive towns and cities elsewhere. Brighton & Hove City Council who have introduced wild flower meadows in its public parks and along its road verges – have just voted “in” .  Close neighbours Lewes wants to be next.
Get involved by signing the petition “Make Lewes District pesticide-free” :
 All information cited in this article can be found at www.pan-uk.org.  The PAN UK website also has a number of resources to help you plan a campaign to make your own town and city pesticide-free.