• Pesticide-Free Cambridge

2020 (and earlier): PFC campaign meetings and updates

Updated: Jan 26

On this page you'll find a rolling record of meetings and other updates about our campaign in 2020 and previous years. Our records for 2022 (current year), and 2021 are available in separate blog entries. See links above

12 December 2020

PFC attended Cambridge Labour Party Environment Forum (CLEF) meeting.

8 December 2020

PFC attended online Cambridge Labour Party Environment Forum / FECRA event with lecture by Feargal Sharkey on chalk streams and river pollution. PFC participated in the ensuing discussion and we raised the issue of the impact of agricultural, domestic and local authority pesticide use on river water quality, and also asked whether there were any updates on the effects of pesticide factory housing project in Hauxton. Recording:

8 December 2020

Cambridge Independent article by Paul Brackley on herbicides in Cambridge including an interview with Nick Mole at PAN-UK Pesticide-free Towns

2 December 2020

PFC attended Cambridge Labour Party Environment Forum (CLEF) meeting to discuss Save the Cam strategy.

30 November 2020

PFC meeting with Katie Porrer & Josh Matthews City, Lib Dem Councillors, discussed use of herbicides on streets, parks and pavements, and both insecticides and herbicides in schools and private homes. Both were very supportive of our objectives.

25 November 2020

PFC attended PAN-UK Pesticide-Free Towns Campaigners’ event to discuss used of social media for Pesticide-Free Towns campaigns. Very productive and useful meeting during which we learnt a lot about how to maximise the efficacy of our social media channels. Main message: keep it focused on pesticide-free towns! PFC also summarised the aims and objectives of our campaign.

19 November 2020

PFC meeting with Katie Thornburrow (Labour City Councillor for Open Spaces), and Guy Belcher (Biodiversity Officer), together with operatives. Both Thornburrow and Belcher were very supportive of PFC’s aims.

Guy Belcher reported on Cambridge University biodiversity initiative, Cambridge Nature Network vision and interactions with Keep Britain Tidy and The Bedford Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust. We were told that herbicide spraying on verges will cease ‘soon’, but were still unable to get a firm date. He told us that spraying in parks and open spaces stopped last year, pathways and infrastructure are still being sprayed for ‘health and safety’ reasons (e.g,. ‘trip hazards’).

Cllr Thornburrow told us that the main obstacle for stopping spraying on roads and pavements was that the final decision rested with County Council, and also that it was difficult technically to avoid spraying around electric points and other street infrastructure, with further obstacles being presented by bad state of repair of pavements etc. She told us that there are more complaints about lack of weed control than the use of herbicides! She suggested that we might contribute something to Cambridge Matters.

18 November 2020

PFC attended Cambridge Labour Party Environment Forum (CLEF) meeting, attended also by Cllr Katie Thornburrow to whom PFC outlined some of the problems with pesticides in Cambridge.

26 October 2020

PFC meeting with PAN-UK Pesticide Free Towns to discuss approaches to our campaign.

20 October 2020

PFC attended Cambridge Labour Party Environment Forum (CLEF) meeting where it was agreed that CLEF would becoming one of our Supporting Groups. Fantastic news and wonderful to have the backing of all the amazing environmentally minded people in this group.

We introduced a motion for a comprehensive ban of pesticides and it was agreed that this would be taken to various branches, for discussion and support for eliminating remaining council use of herbicides in the city’s pavements and streets, and for raising awareness about the use of both insecticides and herbicides in businesses, schools and private homes.

We expanded on the supporting literature to stress the human health as well as wildlife damage created by widespread use of pesticides, highlighting also the higher levels of toxicity and environmental persistence represented by insecticides in comparison to glyphosate that the council has now banned from parks and children’s playgrounds. We also mentioned council plans reported to us by Cllr Thornburrow to phase out the use of herbicides on verges and that we are in ongoing discussion with her to try to get some clarity as to precisely when this will happen. It was noted that verges in Newnham were still being sprayed in the summer of 2020.

We pointed out that once the herbicides cease to be used on verges and in parks/playgrounds, there is still the ongoing problem of herbicide-based weed control on pavements and roads which occurs at least twice a year.

Full text of MOTION:

That Cambridge City Council urgently extends its recent cessation of glyphosate-based herbicide use in parks, open spaces and children’s playgrounds to its roads, verges, and pavements that it manages on behalf of the County Council so that it ends the use of all synthetic, non-agricultural pesticides (including herbicides and insecticides), and establishes a communications campaign which strongly encourages residents, businesses, universities, schools and other stakeholders within the City to do likewise.


There is widespread recognition of the negative health impact of both agricultural and non-agricultural pesticides use and their link with a wide range of human illnesses, including cancers, neurogenerative diseases, endocrine disruption and DNA alteration, as well as autism and learning difficulties in children.(1) In addition, there is growing concern about the negative impact of both agricultural and non-agricultural pesticide use on declining insect populations and the consequent loss of biodiversity.(2) Unsustainable chemical use and waste has been singled out as a key obstacle to achieving the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and as a major contribution to air pollution far over and beyond that related to fumes from vehicles.(3)

There is growing awareness of the important contribution of wild grasses and flowers in roadside verges to biodiversity, human health and wellbeing, and the positive example set by cities such as Zurich that have embraced the visual and biodiverse beauty of their wild verges that have also been used after the autumn cut, as nutrient-rich feed for cattle. In the UK, Rotherham Council’s 8-mile ring road wildflower meadow saved up to £25,000 in mowing costs and improved biodiversity, while also being popular with residents.(4) Sheffield’s Living Highways Project shows how councils can work together with contractors to deliver a verge management plan that boosts wildlife. Closer to home, Saffron Walden is working with the Pesticides Action Network to become a pesticides free city.(5) The City would be able to call on the PAN UK’s Pesticide-Free Towns Campaign and its local representatives, Pesticide-Free Cambridge for guidance.(6)

Cambridge City Council recognised the Biodiversity Emergency on 22 May 2019 and pledged to ‘make the Council estate more hospitable to a wide range of plants and animals’ and to ‘work in partnership with institutions, schools, businesses and community groups to raise awareness and encourage wider biodiversity action across the City’. The City Council’s 2019 decision to stop applying glyphosate-based herbicides in the city’s parks, open spaces and children’s playgrounds has had a positive impact on biodiversity in the City. This is a good start on which to build, particularly given the recent Amendment 78 to the UK Agriculture Bill which extends current agricultural spraying regulations that hitherto afforded protection to wildlife but not to human health, to the limitation of crop spraying in close proximity to private and public buildings, including schools.(7) The continued use of the very same pesticides within the grounds and buildings that such an Amendment seeks to protect, is therefore increasingly illogical.

The use of glyphosate-based herbicides by private individuals is also a problem across the city, especially when applied on council-owned streets and pavements or without regard to the potential for pesticide drift.Further, glyphosate-based herbicides comprise only one type of non-agricultural pesticides, which include also synthetic insecticides. The use of insecticides within private homes, gardens, estates and facilities contexts such as schools and businesses, is generally overlooked. These products are considerably more persistent in the environment, toxic and injurious to human health than the glyphosate-based herbicides that have received so much media attention. Many insecticides, and indeed herbicides, are applied to the external peripheries of buildings that abut municipal land, meaning that members of the public are afforded no protection against exposure to hazardous chemicals when walking on a public pavement or street.

Many insecticide products, aimed at the control of ants, wasps, flies or beetles, are normalised by being sold on the cleaning products shelves of supermarkets and DIY stores, and yet are implicated in a wide range of long-term neuro-degenerative illnesses, with the ability to metabolise active ingredients varying significantly across the human population according to individual genetics.(8) For example, many such insecticides contain carbamates, which are powerful nerve agents used in chemical warfare, which like the notorious organophosphate group, carry warnings regarding their acetylcholinesterase-inhibiting properties. Whilst these chemicals have negative health impacts on the human population at large, for individuals with cholinesterase enzyme deficiencies, they can be extremely hazardous, with debilitating and long-lasting impacts on exposure, even in trace form. Powder-based insecticides are particularly hazardous in this regard due to their high volatility and susceptibility to ‘drift’ and cross-contamination from their original place of application.

It is for all these reasons that we call on the City Council to enact a wider ban on all synthetic, non-agricultural pesticides (including both herbicides and insecticides) in all areas they are responsible for managing, and to work with partners across the city to encourage them to do likewise.

References: (1);;,




For general guidance see

(5) ;




19 October 2020

PFC launched our website!

Thanks to everyone who helped get this off the ground!

14 October 2020

PFC email correspondence with Councillor Katie Thornburrow (Labour Councillor for Open spaces) following her tweet saying that the city council are going to phase out pesticides on the verges they manage for the County. We asked for more detail and clarity as to when this will actually happen. CLEF forwarded us the following email from Councillor Thornburrow (15 October)

“It was in 2018 that the City Council ceased using herbicides on all our own grounds, but that only represents about 6% of land in Cambridge, but it is still a huge achievement. Since then the officers have been working with highways to cease the use of herbicides on the green verges owned by Highways where the City Council has a service agreement to maintain them. This is being done alongside work with On The Verge Cambridge to consider wildflower planting where appropriate, and much more biodiversity. We also are running a year of pollination awareness but this is greatly hindered by the distancing restriction due to the pandemic, but it is still progressing”.

11 October 2020

PFC email to Cllr Katie Thornburrow sending information on non-chemical alternatives to ‘weed’ control.

1 October 2020

PFC meeting with On the Verge Stirling, Pesticide-Free Scotland and Worcester Environmental Group (WEG). Pesticide-Free Scotland kindly shared their document aimed at Local Authorities with examples of non-chemical ways to tackle ‘weeds’.

25 September 2020

PFC attendance at Cambridge Eco Schools council meeting, brief outline of the schools element of our pesticide-free campaign.

26 May 2020

PFC meeting with Cambridge Labour Party Environment Forum (CLEF) to discuss ways of working together.

12 May 2020

Members of PFC joined forces with members of On the Verge Cambridge! The start of a fantastic collaboration!

5 May 2020

Individual member of PFC received reply from Daniel Zeichner in response to their email of 30 April.

" Thank you for getting in touch and raising these very important issues. I too was extremely pleased to see Cambridge City Council end the use of glyphosate-based weed control in parks and I want to see further limits put on which chemicals are used in Cambridge and the rest of the UK. I have long called for greater restrictions on insecticides and pesticides and, as you may be aware, since becoming a Member of Parliament I have been proud to become a ‘Species Champion’ for the Ruderal bumblebee and to attend the annual UK Bee Summit. Bees and other pollinators are vital for our environment and our farming industry. The decline of bees across the world is a cause of great environmental concern with loss of habitats and an increase in the use of pesticides as main contributors. The government must ensure that our environment and biodiversity are central to future agricultural policies. Part of my new role as the Shadow Minister for farming is looking at sustainable agriculture and I have been working with multiple stakeholders on the uses of pesticides and insecticides, to see how Britain can move to safer and more environmentally friendly methods of farming. I have serious concerns over our exit from the EU and what this means for the use of pesticides. The EU's extensive list of banned and dangerous chemicals has expanded to over 21,000 substances and this has played a huge role in removing these chemicals from the UK. I will be pressing the Government to ensure we continue to abide by these and add to the list where necessary. I am of course happy to raise these very serious points with George Eustice during our meetings and I greatly welcome your expertise on this. Thank you again for getting in touch and for raising this with me, I hope that you are keeping well.
Best wishes, Daniel Zeichner Member of Parliament for Cambridge @DanielZeichner"

30 April 2020

Individual member of PFC emailed Cllr Rosy Moore in her capacity as Councillor for Coleridge Ward, and also as Executive Councillor for Climate Change, Environment and City Centre, about the problem of insecticide powders applied by private individuals on Cambridge’s streets and pavements. No reply. Followed up on 4 Feb 2021. No reply.

30 April 2020

Individual member of PFC emailed Cllr Mike Davey in his capacity as Councillor for Petersfield about the problem of insecticide powder being applied by members of the public on Cambridge’s public streets and pavement, highlighting the much higher levels of toxicity of such chemicals when compared to glyphosate that has dominated recent campaigns and media attention. No reply.

30 April 2020

Individual member of PFC emailedDaniel Zeichner, Cambridge MP about the problem of insecticide powder being applied by members of the public on Cambridge’s public streets and pavement, highlighting the much higher levels of toxicity of such chemicals when compared to glyphosate that has dominated recent campaigns and media attention. Received supportive response and said was ‘happy to raise these very serious points with George Eustice during our meetings and I greatly welcome your expertise on this’ (see entry for 5 May 2020).

October 2019

Cambridge City Council agrees to stop using herbicides in city parks, playgrounds and open spaces.;

July 2019

Motion to the city council to ban pesticides in Cambridge proposed by Cllr Martinelli with an original target of 2022 -

However, in May 2021, we learnt that the original reference to 2022 was subsequently removed in an amendment by Cllr Thornburrow before the motion was put forward (see entry for 27 May 2021) . So unfortunately the commitment to phase out herbicides effectively proceeded with no clear timeframe given. If the original motion had been passed then the city council would have resolved to:

  1. Commit to stopping all use of pesticides on Cambridge City Council's open spaces within the next year

  2. Bring a report to the Environment and Community Scrutiny Committee defining a strategy for the complete phase out of pesticide use by the end of 2022

  3. Establish a stakeholder forum including Cambridgeshire County Council, members of the public and local landowners to assist in implementing the strategy.’

The amended motion REMOVED certain clauses, amongst them being:

  • Exposure to pesticides is associated with human disease, harm to wildlife and contamination of our natural resources.

  • Safe and effective alternatives to the use of chemical pesticides exist and are in use by other local authorities who have committed to becoming pesticide-free.

  • Trials this year of stopping herbicide use in a number of parks in Cambridge have been successful without significant negative impact on either the quality of the area or the Council's resources.’

In the form in which the motion passed it leaves the commitment to making Cambridge pesticide-free completely open-ended. In reality, all the council committed to do was to discuss and consult further.

22 May 2019

Labour’s declaration of a biodiversity emergence at council meeting.

25 April 2019

PFC meeting with PAN-UK Pesticide-Free Towns to discuss our campaign.

16 February 2019

PFC meeting with PAN-UK Pesticide-Free Towns to discuss our campaign.

January 2019

Labour’s declaration of a climate emergency at council meeting in January 2019 following petition of Extinction Rebellion, and the agreement that this should be widened to a declaration of a biodiversity emergency, to be discussed further at the next council meeting on 22 May 2019

July 2018

PFC meeting with PAN-UK Pesticide Free Towns to discuss campaign.

12 July 2018

PFC contacted Cambridge Green Party to ask what they are doing to tackle the problem of Local Authority and private use of herbicides and insecticides in Cambridge, and raised the issue in particular of the much higher toxicity of insecticides than glyphosate-based herbicides despite the media attention to the latter. Response included reference to Green Councillor Oscar Gillespie ‘s previous questions at council meetings about the “risk of river contamination by pesticides used on farms upstream of the Cam and also potentially Hobson's Brook,” and the need to “put pressure on the local farmers to ensure that they don't risk contamination of these waterways as the insect ecosystem is far too fragile at the moment and they form part of the foundation of the green corridors", also the need to monitor "pesticide levels, to ensure that we can flag any warnings early on, and avoid the level of contamination of the Waveney and the Tame.” Also mention of Cllr Gillespie having “repeatedly called for weedkiller use, in particular glyphosates, to be reduced and referred to the trial of vinegar as weedkiller in Bristol which, depending on the findings, may turn out to be an option for Cambridge". Mention also of the recent trial in Abbey ward of avoiding weed killer about street furniture that may lead to a decision soon in Cambridge (see page 12 of the following report):

This page is currently under construction. Please check back in the next few days for a full record of activities pre 2018.

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