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  • Pesticide-Free Cambridge

Pesticide-Free Cambridge, Newsletter #2, June-July 2023

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

3 July 2023

In our second Newsletter, we update you with what we’ve been doing over the last month (for the previous newsletter, see here)

1. Pesticide-Free Schools Initiative

Our Pesticide-Free Schools initiative has now been launched, with letters and our Pesticide-Free Guide going out to every school in Cambridge. Documentation has been co-signed by Cambridge City Council (Executive Councillor for Open Spaces and City Services ), Cambridgeshire County Council (Chair of Children and Young Peoples’ Committee; and Deputy Leader of the Council/ Labour Group Leader), and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Mayor, Dr Nik Johnson. Our initiative focuses on pesticides used in green spaces as well as insecticidal sprays and powders commonly used in and around the built environment. We are keen to stress the entwined biodiversity, public health and disability access dimension of pesticides; the latter in recognition of the disproportionate impact that such chemicals can have on people with chronic illnesses and hypersensitivity conditions. Children are especially at risk of the harmful effects of pesticides as their bodies are still developing and they are more likely to come into direct contact with the physical environment, and hence to pesticides, if being used.

As part of our campaign we are offering schools the option to sign up to a year-long pesticide-free programme which will include up to three training workshops, with the first session planned for the autumn. We already have one school that has made positive steps towards going pesticide-free. For other schools that express an interest in making this transition now then we plan to support them in a more targeted way, with the aim that they can act as 'flag-bearers' at our collective workshops. For schools that are still considering whether to make the transition, success stories and case-studies from schools that have already gone pesticide-free, can make all the difference We will shortly be sending out similar documentation to pre-schools/nurseries and Further Education colleges, including those of Cambridge University. We will then follow up at a County and, ultimately, national level. We will continue to post updates on our schools and universities blog here.

2. Pesticide-Free Cambridge at Coton Orchard Bioblitz Event, 1-2 July 2023

This was a joint Coton Orchard, On the Verge Cambridge and Pesticide-Free Cambridge event. Ben Greig, representing both of the latter organisations, took part in surveys of mammals, moths, butterflies, plants, bats, bees in this 100 year-old, pesticide-free orchard. Each event was led by an expert and most events were fully booked. Few members of the public, including the experts, had seen inside this huge area that encompasses veteran fruit trees, hedgerows, meadows, scrub and woodland. Species records will be sent to the local records office. This precious habitat will be ruined if the Cambourne to Cambridge busway goes ahead as planned. Full details, with photos, to follow on our respective blogs and social media.

Many thanks to Anna Gazeley for the photos, some of which also appear in the opening banner above.

Coton Orchard (photo: Anna Gazeley)

Coton Bioblitz event (photo: Anna Gazeley)

Coton Bioblitz event (photo: Anna Gazeley)

3. Public Questions at Cambridge City Council Environment and Community Scrutiny Meeting, 29/6/23

We submitted five Public Questions to Cambridge City Council Environment and Community Scrutiny Committee (ECSC) meeting on 29 June (Agenda and Livestream here).

The most important outcome was the confirmation given in response to Q.1 that contrary to the impression given at the March ECSC meeting that herbicides had only been ditched within the four trial wards and that the rest of the city was still being sprayed, the position is indeed that no herbicides are being used on ANY hard or soft surface across the city, with the exception of Local Authority housing estates outside the four trial wards (Newnham, Arbury, West Chesterton, Trumpington). We had been informed of this at the most recent Herbicide-Reduction Working Group in May (details here) but we had sought clarification as a) this contradicted earlier statements from the council, and b) some residents, and even councillors we've talked to also had doubts about this. This is great news indeed and makes it doubly important that all other landowners (including schools, universities, colleges, businesses, and yes... residents!) across the city follow suit so as not to compromise these crucial first steps towards creating a fully Pesticide-Free Cambridge.

We did a Facebook post (here) on this. Feel free to share this on your networks, especially as very few people seem to be aware of the precise details surrounding the council’s Herbicide Reduction Plan!

4. Pesticide-Free Cambridge & Keep Britain Tidy’s Eco Schools

On 9 June 2023, we had a constructive meeting with the Educational Manager of Keep Britain Tidy’s Eco School scheme. The aim of the meeting was to discuss how schools’ pesticide-usage as well as any pesticide-free measures already implemented might be incorporated into the Eco School’s Green Flag Award. We are very happy to report that they have agreed for such criteria to be embedded within their three-tiered certification process. We have since submitted questions in relation to three types of common pesticide-use in schools:

  1. Herbicides in playgrounds;

  2. Turf-care chemicals in sports grounds;

  3. Insecticide sprays and powders used in and around school buildings and the wider built environment.

These questions are now being incorporated into the Eco Schools Application Forms and Annual Review Forms that are currently being revised, for distribution to schools before the new academic year in September. This will help to support our Pesticide-Free Schools initiative and its ultimate aim of getting pesticide-free measures embedded within school policies and related contracts, and help to highlight the futility of being rewarded for other 'green' or 'sustainable' measures whilst continuing to use pesticides.

5. Pesticide-Free Cambridge & the Sunflower Hidden Disability Scheme

Our initiative campaigns for better control of urban pesticides to support biodiversity, but also public health and disability access. To this end, we’re working with various groups to get pesticides rightfully framed as a disability rights issue, and to get pesticide-exposure and related hypersensitivities better reflected in accessibility guidance and policy. Many people with chronic illnesses and conditions, including migraine sufferers, those with ME/CFS, and autism, have profound hypersensitivities to synthetic pesticides at much lower doses than those that affect the population at large (more information here).

We recently wrote to the Sunflower Hidden Disability Scheme asking if they could update their Information page to better reflect the challenges experienced by people with pesticide hypersensitivities, and for such disabilities to be added to the Migraines, and ME/CFS Information pages. This is in recognition of the fact that hypersensitivities to pesticides and related chemicals (including ‘Air Freshener’) are listed on the revised NICE Guidance for ME/CFS, with largely neurological symptoms including migraines, POTS, vertigo, and collapse.

The Sunflower Scheme offers various disability-specific stickers including a 'Sensitive to Smell' sticker. We have asked if this could be complimented by a ‘Sensitive to Pesticides’, and ‘Sensitive to Chemicals’ sticker. Many people with such sensitivities are made unwell not because of an aversion or sensitivity to 'smell' per se, but rather because they lack the necessary enzymes for metabolising the active xenobiotic agent that such products contain. Moreover, many such chemicals don't have any discernible smell at all! The current lack of obligation of organisations to declare pesticide treatments in their premises is a major obstacle to those with sensitivities when it comes to accessing basic services, including education, medical care, leisure, and housing.

We’re happy to say that theSunflower Scheme has now agreed to organise an update of the relevant pages and to let us know when this has been done. This is brilliant news, and we look forward to seeing the revised information and related ‘stickers’, which we hope will help to raise awareness about the realities of not only living with hypersensitivities to pesticides, but also to the harmful impacts of pesticides on public health more generally.

6. Happy Bee Streets

Ascham Road (photo: Anne Rivington)

The Happy Bee Street scheme, a collaboration between Cambridge City Council and Pesticide-Free Cambridge, is central to the council's Herbicide Reduction Plan. One of first to sign up, and with which we've been closely involved from the outset, was the Ascham Road, Atherton Close and Gurney Way Happy Bee Streets Group in North Cambridge.

Ben here at Pesticide-Free Cambridge has made several site visits over the last year which have featured in our blog (see here and here) and will make another one this week to help out on the ground.

Ascham Road (photo: Anne Rivington)

Anne Rivington, on behalf of the group sent us the following update for this newsletter, along with these photos of Ascham Road (some of these also appear in the opening banner above). Many thanks to Anne for these! We'll try to do a separate post sometime soon so as to include some of the other photos she sent us.

Ascham Road (photo: Anne Rivington)

"Since the beginning of June our discussions have mostly been about when and how to mow our verges which hadn't been touched at all this year so are very tall! It has been a steep learning curve.The photos include the 40 square metre of turf meadow which has taken very well and has been much appreciated by the pedestrians who pass through our streets. Oxeye daisies, yarrow, lesser knapweed scabious, bird's foot trefoil and alfalfa have all been flowering. The turf meadow will be cut and raked in early August."

7. UCL Pesticides and Urban Nature Project

The UCL Pesticides and Urban Nature Project which has Cambridge as one of its case-studies recently launched a number of online surveys aimed at different stakeholders including Cambridge residents and local schools.

This is an Environmental Humanities-based project that examines the history of environmental perceptions and behaviours surrounding urban wildlife and landscape management, including cultural constructions of 'weeds', 'pests' and 'pest-control'. It considers how recent community-led biodiversity and climate-change campaigns and initiatives are impacting on human-environmental attitudes and practices, and place-making more generally. Anonymised results will be shared with Pesticide-Free Cambridge amongst others and will help to further the aims of our own initiative.

The survey is being distributed via local networks but please contact the UCL project lead (contact details on the project website above)) if you'd like to take part, or if you have questions about the project.

Any more news?

Please get in touch with us via our social media channels if you have photos, news, events, actions in relation to pesticide-use in Cambridge that you'd like to share. You can also email us on


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