- Pesticide-Free Cambridge
2021: PFC / Local Authority meetings & correspondence
Updated: Nov 4, 2022
On this page we will upload a rolling record of meetings and written correspondence with Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire City Council in 2021. Copies of our public questions to council committee meetings, and answers, where received, have now been moved to a separate record. See here. Our records for 2022 (current year), 2020 and previous years are available in separate blog entries. See links above.
10 Dec 2021
Email to Cllr Collis et al further to our unanswered questions at the 7 Oct 2021 Environment & Community Scrutiny meeting. As of Jan 2022 this email also remains unanswered.
Dear Cllr Collis
Copying in Streets and Open Spaces team as we met with them with Katie Thornburrow, then Executive Councillor for Streets and Open Spaces, on 19th November 2020 to discuss these issues. Also copying in Cllrs Porrer, Payne and Copley due to their support for the July motion and Haf Davies as Executive Councillor for Biodiversity.
Below (in bold) you will see the questions submitted to the Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee meeting on 7th October 2021 and to which we note we have not yet received a response.
With reference to these questions, happy though we are about the passing of Cllrs Porrer and Payne’s motion at the Full Council on 22 July, we are increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of change and the lack of direct communication since then. We have had some informal discussions with members of the Biodiversity team at Cambridge City Council about the best herbicide-free alternatives for the mini trial that they have been running this autumn. We would be grateful, however, if the council could tell us please which methods were trialled, what the results were, and which methods have been selected to put in place for the subsequent two-ward trials? Further, given that herbicide use in parks and open spaces, including children's playgrounds, was supposedly halted in 2019, can the council tell us which herbicide-free trials have been used in these areas since then? Regarding the two-ward trial, we had initially suggested Arbury, Abbey and Newnham as suitable wards for trialling herbicide-free methods, and we have had support from Councillors in these wards. However, we have not yet received any formal notification about council decision making in this regard. Can the Council let us know whether a decision has been made over choice of trial wards, and when Pesticide-Free Cambridge will be formally included in these discussions? We are extremely concerned that the date for the two-ward trial has already slipped from autumn 2021 to spring next year. Could the Council also confirm when the signage and information warning residents about planned spraying programmes will be actioned, given that the motion passed in July promised to 'to explore the most effective methods of communicating with residents (and any additional resource implications) about any necessary herbicide applications, which may include the following commitments: publishing the planned dates of herbicide treatments by road/ward for the remainder of 2021 and thereafter on the council’s website'. We consider this to be a minimum step towards reducing residents’ direct exposure to toxic glyphosate residues during the 5-10 days that it takes for plant die-off to occur. Our position is that the City Council should also acknowledge explicitly the health risks that ongoing glyphosate applications present to its own operatives. Recognising the links made between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, both the GMB and TUC Unions recommend it be phased out completely or that where it is still used, operatives be given protective clothing. Given that millions of dollars have already been paid out in lawsuits to operatives who have contracted cancer in the US, Cambridge City Council would be well advised to take appropriate precautions in this regard. We reiterate our firm commitment to working with the City Council to make Cambridge pesticide-free, starting with a complete end to herbicide use on land owned or managed by the City Council. In addition, we are also committed to working with communities, groups and residents to make this happen as quickly and as effectively as possible. Cambridge should be a leading light as a green, sustainable, healthy city. Instead, over two years on from its 2019 Climate and Biodiversity Emergency declarations, we have not moved forward from the initial step of ending herbicide use in parks and open spaces.
2 Dec 2021
PFC meeting with Cambridge Council Biodiversity team to discuss progress on two-ward herbicide-free trials (more details to follow).
17 Oct 2021
As invited Consultees on the Cambridge City Council's draft Biodiversity Strategy, PFC made the following submission. Note that the following only includes those answers where we answered more than a simple 'yes/no'.
2. Do you agree with our strategic objectives?
Yes, but see our comments below, especially for Q25.
4. Do you think the council should aim to achieve 20% biodiversity net gain on all measurable Cambridge City Council projects
Yes but this is clearly not enough, and this figure is predicated upon non sustainable growth in the first place. Cambridge City Council should be striving higher than this.
5. Do you think the council should promote green roofs?
Yes, as long as they're not doused with herbicides and moss poison that would undo any potential benefit.
6. Do you agree with the council’s involvement with the Cambridge swift project?
All bird populations are adversely affected by pesticides, so any such proposed Swift Project needs to be implemented in tandem with a commitment to pesticide elimination in both green spaces and the built environment.
7. Do you agree with the council’s tree strategy ?
Yes, brilliant but this needs to be followed in tandem with tighter regulations regarding tree removal / cutting, and herbicide spraying and damaging strimming around tree roots.
8. Do you agree with the council’s peat strategy ?
Yes, and any such decision needs to be taken in tandem with running awareness building campaigns amongst local residents, and by other major stakeholders, including local schools. Surely the City Council can enforce a ban of peat-containing composts in allotments that it owns.
10. Do you agree with the council’s Cam grazing project ?
Any Cambridge grazing project needs to ensure that the livestock is reared on organic principles, given that conventionally reared cows are treated routinely with pour-on worming and insect treatments, all of which have a negative impact on water quality, biodiversity and environmental public health especially given the numbers of children and families that use urban grazing meadows as recreation and picnic grounds.
12. Do you think the council should implement and support the enhancement measures in the Greater Cambridge Chalk Stream Project ?
Needs to be implemented in tandem with urgent action on urban, agricultural and veterinary pesticide use and the danger that run-off presents to the health of sensitive chalk streams.
17. Do you think the council should publish, promote, and implement the Parks Biodiversity Toolkit ?
Yes but this should include advice, in liaison with Pesticide Action Network UK, regarding pesticide-free alternatives to weed, moss, and insect control.
19. Do you think the council should continue our support for Cambridge as a Sustainable Food City?
Should be encouraging specifically organic food production grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilisers along the lines of Cofarm.
20. Do you think the council should Implement recreational pressure on biodiversity campaigns?
We're not quite sure, from the current wording, what this question actually implies, but if we are to understand that it means should you highlight the problem of recreational pressure on your own biodiversity campaigns, then yes, seems like a good idea, but not if this means that residents (and especially children) who are already seriously 'nature deprived' have further restrictions on their access to wild spaces.
21. Do you think the council should continue to engage with volunteers and groups around the City in practical actions to protect, enhance and monitor biodiversity?
Yes of course, but actually this process of engagement needs to be made much easier than it is, and frankly many local groups that we're in touch with are extremely frustrated to have to fight so hard and for so long to basically have the areas that they call home sprayed routinely with poisonous substances that threaten biodiversity and their families' health, and urban plants and verges that they value treated in a way that many regard as vandalism.
23. Do you think the council should implement annual campaigns to promote biodiversity across the City?
Absolutely, and need to highlight different themes ideally at different times of the year, and certainly more than once a year. This should include for example campaigns about the damaging environmental impacts of peat-containing compost, as well as mowing regimes, and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides used by residents, stakeholders and businesses in the city.
24. Do you think the council should continue our work on the Keep Cambridge Buzzing project?
Yes but this needs to be more specifically aligned with a pesticide-free campaign that also highlights the important pollinating role of a range of insects beyond just bees, including for example wasps, moths, and of also ants which play such an important role in soil health.
25. Do you think the council should continue with action to reduce the use of herbicides in the city’s public realm, phasing out its routine use as soon as feasibly possible, and engaging with other land managers and residents to follow suit?
We trust that the Council will implement its commitments made in its Motion of July 2021 to trial two herbicide free wards as soon as possible, with the view to eliminating all herbicide use by the end of 2022 and to work with Pesticide Free Cambridge to this end. Implementation is key as there's already been slippage in delivery of two trial wards from autumn 2021 to spring 2022. Is the biodiversity strategy and action on phasing out herbicides adequately resourced? It has moved forward since the appointment of a temporary Biodiversity Lead Officer but it is a major concern that the council will not be able completely phase out all herbicide use across the city by the end of 2022 if the Biodiversity Strategy overall is not properly resourced.
In light of Ecological Public Health arguments regarding the entwined human and environmental impacts of the destruction of nature and over-use of chemicals, together with robust evidence for the damaging impacts of herbicides on human health, and several successful court cases in recent years that have awarded damages to operatives injured through contact with glyphosate, the council should i) add explicit reference to the direct impact of pesticides on human health as well as air quality to its Biodiversity Strategy document which lacks any such emphases in its current form (although there are references to other sources of air pollution); ii) supply the spraying operatives with full PPE; iii) erect signage to indicate where spraying has taken place. This was mentioned as a possible objective in the July 2021 Motion, but we've been given no assurance as to when or if this will actually happen; iv) publish a schedule of when spraying will happen to alert the public; And v) conversely, erect signage in areas left unsprayed and unmown to let the public know this is being done for the benefit of biodiversity and public health (building therefore on existing plans outlined on p. 58 to ‘[raise] public awareness of ecologically sensitive weed management practices’).
The draft document (p. 59) refers to plans to encourage the Public to stop using pesticides in gardens, allotments and ‘other’ areas. There is a need for greater clarity as to what is meant here by ‘other’ areas and this category should include instances where private pesticide use (both herbicides and insecticides) impacts on public land either through drift, or through direct application of pesticides on public land. And by extension, if the Council is to stop using herbicides on land it owns or manages on behalf of the County Council, it also should prohibit the private use of pesticides on these areas, for example on pavements/roads that directly about private properties).
In addition to committing to tackling private residents' use of pesticides, the Council also should add explicit reference in its draft document to the need for it to work with and take the lead with regards local schools, businesses, sports grounds, and the universities, so as to achieve consistency with regards pesticide policy across the city as a whole.
The is also need for greater clarity in the Strategy Document regarding terminology surrounding pesticides, and in particular with regards the distinction between 'plant protection chemicals' (both herbicides and insecticides used directly on plants whether on streets/pavements or in private/public green spaces) and pesticides used in outdoor and indoor estates and facilities contexts. All of the references to pesticides in current council documents refer solely to the former, with no consideration of non –plant directed pesticides that also have a significant, and often even greater, impact on both biodiversity and health. There is significant porosity between plant/nonplant, and outdoor/indoor boundaries, but moreover, these substances, and especially insecticide powders commonly applied around the outer peripheries of buildings to treat ants, carry far beyond their point of application, both inside and outside, through drift and footfall.
31. Is there anything you think we have missed within the draft strategy?
Please see our recommendations for Q25.
32. Have you any suggestion as to how we might collaborate to deliver this strategy?
We already have a commitment in the July 2021 Pesticide-Free motion for the City Council to work in liaison with Pesticide-Free Cambridge and we look forward to ongoing constructive collaboration.
9 Sept 2021
PFC meeting with Streets and Open Spaces Biodiversity Project, Cambridge City Council. Discussed ways of working together over suitable herbicide alternatives to be trialled in two wards as agreed in the August city council motion. This will be preceded by a controlled micro trial of a variety of herbicide-free weed control methods in September which will help when it comes to rolling out the best alternatives across two wards in early 2022. We are still seeking clarity from the Council as to why the two-ward trial is not beginning until 2022 as this seems to contradict the commitment of the August motion to begin in Autumn 2021.
22 July 2021
We are pleased that Lib Dem Cllrs Katie Porrer and Cheney Payne's #pesticidefree motion at Thursday’s Full Council meeting was passed, albeit with amendments. We are so grateful to them and all the other City and County Councillors that we’ve been in discussion with over the last 14 months for supporting our campaign and for taking these crucial steps towards achieving our goal of a fully #pesticidefreeCambridge. We have been asking for a clear timeframe for over a year, and we do now have a declared intention, if not a firm commitment, to end all Council herbicide use by the end of 2022, which is excellent news, and which finally accords with the councils' declaration of a biodiversity emergency back in 2019.
The original motion proposed that two wards be selected as #herbicidefree trials in the next spraying season of 2021 so that appropriate alternatives could be selected, in discussion with us at Pesticide-Free Cambridge across the whole city by the end of 2022. It also proposed that herbicide spraying schedules be published in advance so that residents can take proactive precautions before interacting with these areas. It is disappointing that in Labour’s amendment, the original proposal 'to commit to publishing the planned dates of herbicide treatments by road/ward for the remainder of 2021 and thereafter on the councils' website', is now preceded by the following qualification, 'to explore the most effective methods of communicating with residents (and any additional resource implications) about any necessary herbicide applications, which MAY include the following commitments’.
However even though this and other amendments remove much of the clarity of the original motion, we are delighted that its underlying intention remains in place including to end all council herbicide use by the end of 2022. We look forward to working with the City Council to explore which herbicide-free alternatives work best for the two as-yet-to-be-selected trial wards, in advance of the next spraying season in autumn of this year.
We are grateful to Cllrs Porrer and Payne for working with us and for proposing their motion, and to Cllr Collis and many other City and County Councillors for their overwhelming support of our campaign. The council's declared intention to end all council herbicide spraying by the end of 2022 is a hugely important first step towards achieving our end goal which is to make the city completely #pesticidefree, including the use of herbicides and insecticides by other stakeholders such as the universities, businesses, schools and residents. We look forward to continued collaboration with all concerned to make this happen.
You can watch the debate at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_B0gmsipC4k (starts at 2 hrs 33 with Cllr Porrer and Payne's excellent speeches, and also supportive comments of our campaign by Cllr Collis).
See entries below for wording of original motion and Labour's amendments.
22 July 2021
PFC meeting with Lib Dem Cllr Katie Porrer to discuss Labour’s amendment of Cllr Porrer and Payne’s motion to be discussed at tonight’s Council meeting.
21 July 2021
The proposed amendments to the Pesticide motion have just been published (p. 41) via https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/media/9757/information-pack-2.pdf
Amended text (with track changes) below.
21 July 2021
PFC meeting with Labour Cllr Alex Collis to discuss ways of working together on our campaign in advance of tomorrow’s Council meeting and Lib Dem’s Motion to make Cambridge pesticide-free. Other discussion points:
Our Petition which now has nearly 550 signatures.
Our planned contribution to the Biodiversity Draft Strategy Consultation (see below) on which we are listed consultees.
Relative pros and cons of hot foam v. brush machines as alternatives to herbicides. Unlikely that a one-fits-all solution will apply to the city as a whole. Different alternatices needed in different wards.
Pesticides on university-owned land.
Private use of pesticides on council-owned land.
Use of pesticides on new housing estates (Eddington, Trumpington Meadows).
19 July 2021
PFC sent out emails to all Cambridge Labour Councillors asking them to support Lib Dem Cllrs Porrer and Payne’s Motion for debate on 22 July. Received following response from Cllr Mike Davey on 22 July.
Attached is the position agreed by the Labour Group. Happy to talk through after this evenings meeting,
We welcome Cllr Porrer’s motion and are entirely supportive of the underlying principles. As you may well know, we made a commitment in our 2021 election manifesto to work towards making Cambridge a herbicide-free city. We fully recognise the part the city council has to play here and what we need to do as a council is work out what resources are needed to help this happen. It is the how rather than the what or why that any amendments we put forward will focus on.
Many of the actions put forward both by your organisation and in Cllr Porrer’s motion are in fact already underway, such as trials of alternative weed control methods, but there certainly are other areas we can look at. We particularly recognise the need that you’ve outlined for reviewing how we communicate with residents and communities on this, including an element of education as needed – and also the need for transparency, and partnering with organisations such as yours in the discussion of how we get to the goal that I think we all share
14 July 2021
Having worked with Lib Dem Cllrs Katie Porrer and Cheney Payne over the last few months, they have published a motion for discussion at next Council meeting (22 July), Item 6c. We are very happy that many of the points that we have raised with them, and at questions to council meetings have been incorporated into the Motion. https://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=3963&x=1
Text as follows:
Councillor Porrer: Pesticide-free Motion
That it unanimously voted in favour of declaring a Biodiversity Emergency on 18th July 2019;
That this included reducing and removing the need to use pesticides on highway footpaths and verges, and to find viable and effective alternatives;
That the recent Biodiversity strategy focusses on open spaces but excludes roads, pavements and infrastructure which are still being treated with pesticides by council staff;
That with the changed control of the County Council, there is real opportunity to stop day to day pesticide use for weed management across our city within the next year.
To commit to making two wards completely pesticide-free from now on as a trial, and making the relevant ward residents aware of this trial;
In order to do this, to commit to purchasing or hiring brush cleaning equipment to use in the pesticide free wards (and others where possible) with active involvement of Pesticide Free Cambridge representatives and frontline council staff to select the product, prior to the next planned round of treatments in 2021;
To report back to the Environment and Community Scrutiny Committee on the differences between the pesticide-free wards and those wards that are not pesticide-free, and on the use of the brush equipment before the start of the 2022 cycle of treatments. This would include information about operative time and savings or costs made, feedback from residents and operatives, and the level of any complaints or compliments;
To commit to publishing the planned dates of pesticide treatments by road/ward for the remainder of 2021 and thereafter on the council’s website, allowing residents to find out when a treatment is planned. This is because it can take several days before it is clear that a pesticide treatment has been applied and residents need to be informed so that they can choose to avoid the area and to keep children and animals in particular away from the treatment sites;
To commit, in addition to the online listings, to displaying signage in situ on the relevant roads and pavements with dates of any herbicide treatments from 2022 onwards.
To commit to publishing the amount of pesticide used each month and the cost to the council;
To commit officer time to working with community groups who may wish to volunteer to clear their street spaces to avoid pesticide use;
To commit to making Cambridge City Council pesticide free by the end of 2022.
To publish a regular six monthly update to the Environment and Community Scrutiny Committee on any exceptional usage of pesticide (for example for Japanese Knotweed) and to establish a clear protocol for any such usage, ensuring that the least harmful options are selected, including sign off by a senior manager before any use is permitted.
To commit to sharing the data on our trials with other councils considering similar trials and allowing an exchange of information (and visits if possible) for council staff to showcase and share Cambridge City Council’s learning.
24 June 2021
PFC meeting with Cllr Katie Porrer, Liberal Democrat Party Councillor for Market and Cllr Cheney Payne, Liberal Democrat Party Councillor for Castle.
We discussed a variety of topics all of which require further action:
PFC providing examples of Local authorities who have successfully gone herbicide-free so Cllrs Katie and Cheney can make contact.
PFC providing costings for a range of different mechanical alternatives to glyphosate use.
Need for Council to erect signage after they have sprayed public areas with herbicides so that people are aware that spraying has taken place, and in acknowledgement of the proven risks to health that direct exposure to glyphosate present.
Discussed the issue of why council operatives spraying glyphosate are not wearing protective gear, in light of proven health risks of exposure to glyphosate.
Need for Council to erect signage on verge areas that have been left to grow, as part of a public education strategy to distinguish between perceived neglect and active measures to boost biodiversity.
What alternatives to glyphosate spraying have been trialled or explored by the Council so far?
We discussed possibility of proposing to the City Council an initial herbicide-free trial period focusing on two very different wards in terms of socio-economic demographics, for instance Newnham and either Arbury, Abbey, King’s Hedges or East Chesterton. The possibility of mobilising mutual aid groups was discussed given that they have been extremely active during the pandemic.
We also discussed the ‘locals street adoption’ model that has been applied successfully in other regions, e.g., Lambeth, as a possible model in some wards of Cambridge where there is already significant community engagement through local residents’ associations.
Discussed the Biodiversity Supplementary Planning Document on verges for the Planning & Transport Scrutiny Committee meeting next week (29 June). Council now aiming for a 20% biodiversity gain and this document could be crucial, until the new Local Plan comes into effect.
PFC raised the need for a much clearer distinction between 'plant protection chemicals' (both herbicides and insecticides used directly on plants) and pesticides used in outdoor and indoor estates and facilities context. All of the references to pesticides in current council documents refer solely to the former and don't consider at all the latter which have significant impact on both biodiversity and health.
23 June 2021
PFC meeting with Cllr Hannah Charlotte Copley, Green Party Councillor for Abbey, and two other Green Party members
We discussed a variety of topics all of which require further action:
PFC will provide examples of other Local Authorities that have gone herbicide-free, especially where this has avoided switching to other costly weed-killing equipment such as foam. Lambeth and Hackney were discussed as LAs who have stopped routine herbicide spraying, switched to non-chemical weed removal and allowed residents to look after their own streets, encouraging a much greater tolerance of weeds as wildflowers overall.
HCC will share details of the Green Party’s own Integrated Weed Control programme.
PFC will submit questions about the new Biodiversity Strategy and Toolkit for the upcoming Environment & Community Scrutiny Committee meeting on 1st July. The Biodiversity strategy document will be discussed during next week’s meeting with the proposal that it goes out for an eight-week consultation (PFC is on the list of consultees) and gets approved or amended and approved in October 2021.
HCC followed up by email with links to related documentation:
Councillors in attendance
Biodiversity strategy https://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/documents/s55961/Biodiveristy%20Strategy%20Committee%20Report%20Final.pdf
Biodiversity draft strategy
Parks biodiversity toolkit
List of consultees (including Pesticide-Free Cambridge, and our supporting group, On the Verge Cambridge) https://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/documents/s55964/Appendix%20C%20-%20List%20of%20proposed%20stakeholders%20consultees.pdf
19 June 2021
PFC meeting with Hilary Cox Condron, Labour Cambs County Councillor for Arbury, Vice-Chair of Community, Social Mobility and Inclusion Committee, also community artist/Cambridge Curiosity & Imagination and Eco Capabilities.
We discussed a variety of topics all of which require further action:
PFC providing examples of Local authorities who have successfully gone herbicide-free so Hilary can make contact.
PFC providing evidence of pesticide-use (both herbicides and insecticides) in Cambridge schools and success so far.
PFC Pesticide-Free Schools campaign (see schools info page here with blog piece to follow shortly) and ways that we might work together. Hilary/PFC to ask the County Council to send a message to schools to encourage the embedding of a pesticide-free school policy county-wide.
Pesticide-Free Arbury - access to nature/clean green space is an equality issue, improves well-being, reduces crime etc… - establishing this ward as a herbicide-free zone could provide excellent model for the rest of the city.
Herbicide use on verges/paths – Hilary to support City Council in its commitment to phase this out and work with them on establishing a time-frame.
Extending campaign to end herbicide use on verges to Parish councils (and schools as above), ideally through liaison with partner environmental groups (see here for our allied groups).
Nature Heritage Month (details to follow)
Also various related projects were discussed:
More wildflower/long grass/cut and collect zone (eg Kings hedges Rd on Arbury Side, Sherbourne Rd/Close, Nuns Way Recreation ground)
Pond-dipping at allotment pond (New Chesterton Allotment Soc, Howgate Rd).
Cambridge Conservation Initiative and/or Forum.
Urban Forest, Cambridge Canopy Project.
Arbury local nature walks.
Schools Meadows projects (two so far in Arbury, hopefully as many as ten in North Cambridge and beyond by Autumn 2021).
Keep Cambridge Buzzing & North Cambridge Pollinator Corridor info – ties in with On the Verge Cambridge, Keep Britain Tidy and City Council.
9 June 2021
PFC email to Councillor Collis thanking her for her responses to our question at the full City Council meeting on 27 May (response awaited).
“Dear Councillor Collis
Naturally we welcome the 24.5% reduction in herbicide used by the City Council since 2018-2019, the cessation of herbicide spraying in parks and the commitment to exploring alternatives to chemical treatment of verges, footways and around street infrastructure such as trees and benches.
In a meeting with us last November Katie Thornburrow, your predecessor responsible for Open Spaces of course, stated that the contract with the County Council required herbicides to be used and therefore that was a stumbling block to change. We have since had clarification via County Councillor Nichola Harrisson that this is not the case. The County Council expressly do not want herbicides used on their verges or footways (the road channels are a different matter). Both Katie Thornburrow and Lewis Herbert, in a separate meeting (Cambridge Labour Environment Forum, January 2021), gave us their commitment to phasing out herbicides on these verges and working with other stakeholders to make the city pesticide-free.
Regarding the City Council actively exploring non-chemical alternatives to pesticides, can you tell us when a report on these alternatives might be presented to the City Council, presumably to the Environment and Community Scrutiny Committee? Also, by extension, when can we hope to see the 'Making Cambridge a Pesticide Free City' resolution from 2019 (1) come to fruition, specifically 'to reduce and remove the need to use herbicides on highway footpaths and verges' and 'to eliminate the use of pesticides on publicly accessed land in Cambridge, the aim that Cambridge becomes pesticide-free'?
From a recent FOI request we know that the area covered by just one herbicide used in 2019-2020 by the City Council (132 x 5 litres of Hilite) is 88 hectares or 880,000 square metres(2), and that is only one of four herbicides used. It is a truly shocking figure when one thinks of the immediate effect on wildlife but also the exposure to both operatives and residents.
We have considerable support from City Councillors, members of the public and Friends and Residents Associations. Indeed the Friends of Sheep's Green and Lammas Land, Newnham Croft RA and Barton Road & Barton Close RA wholeheartedly joined us at the WCAC meeting 11th March 2021 in proposing that the adjoining roads to Sheep's Green and Lammas Land no longer be sprayed. As well as this active support, it is clear that around Cambridge there is now a much higher tolerance for wildflowers (rather than plug plants) and areas of long grass (rather than just mown amenity grass). One can extend this tolerance to 'weeds' which, in many boroughs, towns and even countries, are now properly accepted as flowers. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you, ideally on Zoom or Teams, to discuss this further.”
8 June 2021
PFC email to Councillor Phillipa Slatter and Councillor Nick Gay explaining Pesticide-Free Cambridge’s aims and objects.
7 June 2021
PFC email to Councillor Alex Bulat and Cllr Neil Shailer explaining Pesticide-Free Cambridge’s aims and objects. Received supportive responses from both.
7 June 2021
PFC email to Cllr Alison Whelan and 25 other new County Councillors explaining Pesticide-Free Cambridge’s aims and objects.
4 June 2021
Received copy of Freedom of Information request submitted by fellow campaigner to Cambridge City Council on its herbicide-use policy. We are grateful to them for forwarding us the Council’s response, which you can read on our separate blog. In particular, the section outlining the volumes of herbicide used last year is truly shocking. We have estimated that the area covered by just one of the above mentioned herbicides used in 2019-2020 by the City Council (132 x 5 litres of Hilite) is 88 hectares or 880,000 square metres(1), and that is only one of four herbicides used. It is an alarming figure when one thinks of the immediate effect on wildlife but also the exposure to both operatives and residents. See here for full documentation.
“In 2019/20 Cambridge City Council’s Streets and Open Spaces Operational department used the following herbicides.
· 132 x 5 Litre Hilite
· 20 x 150 gram Chikara
· 20 x 5 Litre Trustee
· 8 x 5 Litre Roundup”
24 May 2021
PFC email correspondence with Hannah Charlotte Copley, new City Councillor for Abbey Ward, Green Party. A meeting is currently being arranged with Cllr Copley and other members of the Cambridge Green party to discuss how we might work together to make Cambridge pesticide-free.
20 May 2021
PFC emailed Nichola Harrison, Lib Dem County Councillor for City, to follow up on earlier discussion about pesticides in schools, and to report ongoing herbicide spraying all over Cambridge in the last month. We also raised the issue of Parish Councils still spraying with herbicide on their verges. As in the city this is County land we are keen to extend the same logic to this situation and ask the Parishes to phase it out. We asked if she and her party (and, indeed, we will approach the progressive coalition that now runs Cambs County) would support us in a letter to all Parish Councils making this explicit demand.
20 May 2021
Constructive email exchange with Councillor Katie Porrer, Lib Dem, about our question to full council meeting on 27 May.
11 May 2021
PFC emailed Councillor Katie Thornburrow, further to the local elections, asking for clarity on time frame for eliminating herbicide use on verges (awaiting reply).
"Dear Cllr Thornburrow
Congratulations on being re-elected! I trust we can now pick up where we left off pre-election and work together to make Cambridge Pesticide-Free. In particular, I hope we can now phase out herbicide use on road verges as agreed. I know you have someone looking at non-chemical alternatives. Can you share the timeframe for this? We've seen a lot of verge spraying around the city this spring though it's hard to say at present whether some areas have been untouched or it just isn't showing yet.
It's clear that the verges along Fen Causeway have been left alone - so far - of course we are extremely keen that those verges around Sheeps Green and Lammas land are kept out of the spraying rota, as per the wishes of the Friends groups and local residents associations. Any light you can shed on that would be very welcome.
Regarding the cut and collect verge mowing trial, we are pleased to hear that the operatives are using the machine on key verges around the city already. If we can match this with non-chemical weed control machines that would be great"
10 May 2020
Emailed new mayor Nik Johnson to follow up on earlier correspondence in January 2021 to congratulate him on his new role and to suggest a meeting. Received a supportive response, and agreed on a meeting once he’s settled into role.
24-26 March 2021
Constructive email exchange between PFC and Labour Councillor Jocelyne Scutt who supported our objectives. Discussed ways of addressing pesticides in schools and the Universities and their colleges, as well as how to address herbicide use on verges owned by them.
23 March 2021
PFC emailed Councillors Jocelyne Scutt and Katie Thornburrow (cc Nichola Harrison) to follow up on WCAC meeting on 11 March 2021.
"We wanted to follow up on my questions at the WCAC meeting. Specifically we are very keen to clarify several points as they are crucial regarding our objective of making Cambridge Pesticide-Free:
1. Cambridge City isn't just one of two of Councils to have stopped using pesticides in green spaces. The PAN-UK map here shows those Councils that have restrictions in place - there are well over 20.
2. The new verge management trial (which is fantastic by the way) is a separate issue from making Cambridge pesticide-free.
3. Can you acknowledge that the County have said they expressly do NOT want pesticides used on their verges, footways and street infrastructure? It's a misconception that pesticide use in these areas is in the verge management contract between the County and the City. Cllr Nichola Harrison, cc'd in, has established this without doubt.
You know we are extremely supportive of your work in parks and open spaces. Cambridge can be proud of its pesticide-free green spaces and the amazing progress on verge management and city park wildflower meadows. But the City must expand the phasing out of pesticides to verges and footways in order to make good on its Biodiversity emergency declaration and for the public health of its residents. And we now know that the main obstacle raised in our November meeting - the verge contract - no longer stands in our way.
We look forward to hearing from you and making progress on this vital issue".
31 March 2020
PFC emailed Katie Thornburrow in response to her email of 15 March.
"Belated thanks for your reply. Of course we do respect the fact that we are operating under continued and further financial constraints and absolutely we acknowledge that the City Council has pledged to make Cambridge pesticide-free.
Is it not possible, though, to take certain roads out of the herbicide rota (those adjacent to Sheeps Green and Lammas Land in this case), in the same way that we have taken some verges out of the mowing rota (Bradrushe Fields)?"
15 March 2021
PFC received response from Councillor Katie Thornburrow to our email of the same day
"Dear Pesticide-Free Cambridge
This may be the expressed opinions of the county councillors but we are dealing with an existing contract for a service agreement that has been in place for several years and, as for all contracts, can not unilaterally be changed.
I think we have already assured you that detailed discussions are ongoing about the service agreement along with trials of the new cut-and-collect vehicle. It is our stated aim to work PlantLife standards for the verges.
The City Council has made great achievements in the area of becoming a herbicide-free parks and open spaces. Our Council motion of 2019, also stated that we would work with the County to become herbicide-fee verges, and thirdly to work with residents, businesses and other organisations to become a herbicide-free city.
All this has to be done within dwindling financial resources for central government necessitating major rethink about services across the Council.
方 思 琦
Ward Councillor for Trumpington
Executive Councillor, Planning Policy and Open Spaces
15 March 2021
PFC email to Councillor Katie Thornburrow trying to get clarity on the relationship between City and County when it comes to the former’s spraying of land owned by the latter, when we’ve been told that County don’t want their verges sprayed.
"Further to this, I should have explained that prior to the WCAC meeting we received confirmation from Councillor Nichola Harrison about the County's position on pesticides. She has had it both stated and confirmed that the County Council neither requires nor wants pesticides (generally herbicides of course) to be used on the County road verges, footways and on street infrastructure that are maintained by the City Council. In fact, they explicitly do NOT want pesticides to be used there. I believe the one area where they consider it acceptable is in the road channel - the very edge of the road - to maintain a safe and clean road.
In our zoom meeting with you on 19/11/20, the understanding was that the County required pesticides to be used in these areas. Our impression from the meeting was that the City council thought it was written into the verge management contract. And it was said in the meeting that if the County said they did not want pesticides used then the City and its operations team would find an alternative right away.
Well, as we have clarification from the County that they do not want this to happen on their land then this removes the one major obstacle to progress. We can build on the great work you've already done in phasing out pesticides in parks and green spaces and extend this to the County verges, footways and street infrastructure managed by the City.
For details of who Cllr. Harrison spoke to I urge you to contact her directly. She was very thorough and obtained urgent confirmation prior to the WCAC meeting.
Looking forward to working with you on this and improving our city yet further. "
11 March 2021
Following WCAC meeting, PFC emailed Cllr Gehring and Cllr Nethsinga whose area includes Queens Green. Both had been supportive in the meeting
“Dear Councillor Nethsinga Many thanks for your vocal support in yesterday evening's WCAC meeting. Your suggestion of extending the Sheep's Green/Lammas Land pesticide-free zone to include Queen's Road and Queen's Green is a great idea. What that tells us, though, together with what was said by Cllrs Gehring, Scutt, Harrison, Matthews and Porrer, is that we have broad support for our overall goal of making the whole of Cambridge City a pesticide-free zone. That is, indeed, our aim - please see our website Pesticide-Free Cambridge for more information on our various campaigns including council land, schools, the university and more as well as our petition to the city council. We do hope you will sign and share. We very much look forward to working with you. Do get in touch if you have any questions or wish to talk to us directly.”
11 March 2021
PFC attended West Chesterton Area Committee (WCAC) meeting, together with Josh Matthews, Katie Porrer, Nichola Harisson, Jocelyne Scutt, Joel Carre (head of green spaces/environment), Cllr Nethsinga, Cllr Gehring.
· PFC in our question to the meeting, mentioned our email of 1 March from Pesticide-Free Cambridge, Friends of Sheeps Green and Lammas Land, Newnham Croft Residents Association and On the Verge Cambridge to Cllr Katie Thornburrow and Cllr Lewis Herbert. We asked for an end to all City Council herbicide use in and around Sheeps Green and Lammas Land and the adjacent roads Fen Causeway and Newnham Road. Although herbicides are no longer used in parks and playgrounds, they continue to be sprayed on the adjacent verges and on street infrastructure (lampposts, benches and so on). Non-chemical alternatives are available and we know that the City Council is investigating them.
· We reported that on 2nd March our proposal also received the support of the Barton Road and Barton Close Residents Association. We know that councillors from different parties are in favour of phasing out herbicides (we have had very positive meetings with Cllrs Harrison, Herbert, Matthews, Porrer and Thornburrow) and we have extensive local public support. Therefore our question is can we not make Sheeps Green, Lammas Land and their adjacent road verges and footways a completely herbicide-free zone now?
· We believe, from discussions with Nichola Harrison, that the County Council does not want the road verges managed by City Council to be sprayed with herbicides. It is not, as it has been described, because of a contractual obligation to the County, that City Council uses herbicides to manage weeds on footways (pavements) or road verges. Therefore, will the City Council make it a priority to end pesticide use on the footways and road verges that they manage for the County?
From the minuted questions and councillors' responses copied below, we note in particular, Cllr Harrison's comment that the "City Council was not contracted, authorised or permitted to put weedkiller onto the County Councils highway, and that the County Council’s policy was to move away from the use of pesticides except in the case of certain invasive species", and her "frustration that the City Council was continuing to put pesticides down on land it did not own, against the intentions of the County Council, and asked that the City Council provide clear instructions to their officers to stop".
Minutes etc of meeting:
Relevant section from MINUTES:
3. A member of the public raised the following issues:
i. Pesticide-Free Cambridge, Friends of Sheeps Green and Lammas Land, Newham Croft Residents Association and On the Verge Cambridge wrote recently, at the beginning of this month, to Councillor Thornburrow and Councillor Herbert. They asked for an end to all City Council pesticide use in and around Sheeps Green and Lammas Land and the adjacent roads, Fen Causeway and Newnham Road. Although pesticides were no longer used in parks, they continued to be sprayed on the adjacent verges and on street infrastructure, lampposts, benches and so on. Non-chemical alternatives were available and they knew that the City Council was investigating them. On 2nd March their proposal also received the support of the Barton Road and Barton Close Residents Association. Knew that councillors from different parties were in favour of phasing out pesticides. They had had very positive meetings with Councillors Harrison, Herbert, Matthews, Porrer, Thornburrow and there was extensive local public support.
ii. Asked if Sheeps Green, Lammas Land and their adjacent road verges and footways could be a completely pesticide-free zone now and Believed that the County Council did not want the road verges managed by the City Council to be sprayed with pesticide. It was not, as had been described, a contractual obligation to the County that the City Council used pesticides to manage weeds on footways, pavements or road verges.
iii. Asked if the City Council would make it a priority to end pesticide use on the footways and road verges that they manage for the County, and ideally give a date when that might happen?
The member of the public clarified that when using the term pesticides, this was referring to herbicides, insecticides and similar substances.
Councillor Matthews supported the matters addressed and suggested writing a letter of support to Cambridge City Council on behalf of the West Central Area Committee.
Councillor Scutt stated that the issue of pesticide use had been raised at the Environment and Sustainability Committee at the County Council, and that Councillor Thornburrow had provided assurances that the city council did not use pesticides. Councillor Scutt would raise this matter again with both the County Council and City Council and fully supported the issues raised.
Councillor Nethsingha asked if it was possible to expand the area discussed to include Queens Road and Queens Green where there was spraying in the previous year, as grass control could be carried out with a strimmer instead of pesticides.
Councillor Gehring asked why both councils stated they did not wish to use pesticides, but they were still being used on pavements, and requested a voluntary refusal to use any new neonicotinoids on council land or land that has been rented from the county council.
A further member of the public suggested raising this matter with the university and their estate, and Councillor Matthews stated that discussions with local groups had also mentioned approaching local schools about the issue.
Councillor Harrison said that in answer to a recent written question by Councillor Porrer, the City Council acknowledged that herbicides were being used on highway and housing land as there were ‘limited alternative effective controls’. Councillor Harrison had obtained clarification from a senior environmental officer from the County Council that the City Council was not contracted, authorised or permitted to put weedkiller onto the County Councils highway, and that the County Council’s policy was to move away from the use of pesticides except in the case of certain invasive species. The councillor also expressed frustration that the City Council was continuing to put pesticides down on land it did not own, against the intentions of the County Council, and asked that the City Council provide clear instructions to their officers to stop.
Councillor Porrer expressed concern that members of the public may assume that grass verges were pesticide free when they were not and suggested adding signage to explain why vegetation may be less tidy.
Action Point: County Councillors to seek further clarity from their organisation, and Councillor Matthews to discuss submitting letter to Cambridge City Council and other stakeholders in the city on behalf of West Central Area Committee supporting the points.
1 March 2021
PFC, together with Pesticide-Free Cambridge, Friends of Sheeps Green and Lammas Land, Newnham Croft Residents Association and On the Verge Cambridge emailed Councillors Thornburrow and Herbert asking for clarity on the timeframe for phasing out herbicides on road verges and other areas (no reply).
"Dear Katie & Lewis It was great to have your support at the CLEF meeting recently. It is good to know you are both keen to build on your achievements in making Cambridge pesticide-free (specifically by extending the herbicide ban to road verges) but also to work together with other stakeholders - such as the County Council and South Cambs - to deal with the broader problem of pesticides (including both herbicides and insecticides) on pathways, roads, homes and in school grounds and buildings. In our recent meeting (20th January), you mentioned that there was a plan to extend the ban from parks to road verges in the immediate future. Are you able to give us a firm timeframe for when this is likely to be implemented please?
The Newnham Croft Residents’ Association and members of the Friends of Sheeps Green and Lammas Land quite rightly have protested about this before and it was agreed last year not to spray under the Driftway hedge and some of the Newnham Road verge, but herbicide was still used in other places on Lammas Land. Given the importance of these areas as green spaces, as childrens' play areas and their proximity to the Cam, we should be doing our utmost to make them safe for people and improve their biodiversity. As you may know, the verges and paths along the adjacent roads Fen Causeway and Newnham Road are sprayed with herbicide twice a year as are the lampposts, trees and other street infrastructure (see attached photos). The rectangle made up of Sheep's Green and Lammas Land and adjoining roads Fen Causeway and Newnham Road is an ideal location to stop applying pesticides altogether. That is to say, to not just phase out pesticides on the verges (which has happened already - or is soon to be?) but also on the paths, the road edges, around the benches, lampposts and trees and so on. And it would be best to act now, before the spring wave of herbicide application happens.
We know you are committed to the Climate and the Biodiversity Emergency. Let's show that we can take real action to back up that commitment. Verges are taken out of mowing regimes here and there so as to allow nature-friendly community planting (Gough Way and Ferry Path for example). Surely we can take the paths and verges alongside Sheep's Green and Lammas Land out of the herbicide rota? The benefits for nature and the community would be significant. Taking these simple steps in and around one of Cambridge's best-loved green spaces would demonstrate the way forward for an even greener, better city. We have all heard the reasons why such a change cannot be done - it's the County, it's too difficult, the (literal) obstacles in the way - but the emergencies we face are so pressing that we have to make this happen."
12 Feb 2021
PFC meeting with Councillor Porrer (City Lib Dem), Councillor Matthews (City Lib Dem), and Councillor Harrison (County Lib Dem for City) who were all very supportive of our aims to tackle herbicide use by the Council, and both herbicide and insecticide use in schools, businesses, and private contexts. Nichola Harrison gave us an extremely useful explanation for the terminologies for dividing up footway: i) pavement; ii) channel (drop of kerb); iii) carriageway. Whilst weed killing in channels, using herbicides, is carried out by city council on behalf of county council., she informed us that for verges owned by county council, she had been told by a senior environmental officer that the County do not approve of it and want the city council to stop it. She explained that for verges owned by other stakeholders, such as in privately owned housing estates there can be considerable complexity when it comes to establishing which streets are owned by whom.
If County council do not want streets owned by them in Cambridge to be sprayed, this contradicts what we’ve been told by Labour city councillors that the city is constrained by county wishes.
4 Feb 2021
PFC email to Cllr Rosy Moore in her capacity as Councillor for Coleridge Ward, and also as Executive Councillor for Climate Change, Environment and City Centre to follow up on our unanswered emails of 30 April 2020 and 25 January 2021 (no reply).
Copy of our email below: “We at PAN-UK Pesticide-Free Cambridge have now joined forces with On the Verge Cambridge and other environmental groups in Cambridge, including Cambridge Labour Environmental Forum, with the aim of tackling pesticide use in the city. It seems increasingly illogical that the city Council has recognised the climate emergency and yet continues to use toxic herbicides on its streets, pavements and verges, and we would hope that you in your capacity as Executive Councillor for Climate Change would support us in our efforts to make Cambridge a pesticide-free city. We have recently launched a petition to the city council and will shortly be following up with a similar petition to the county council. https://www.change.org/p/cambridge-city-council-make-cambridge-pesticide-free
It would be great if we could meet sometime (on Zoom) to discuss further as to how the recent changes to weed management in the city's parks might be extended to a city-wide ban of herbicides and insecticides. Please let us know if you have any availability in the next few weeks”.
25 January 2021
Further to CLEF meeting on 20 January 2021 PFC sent follow up emails to Katie Thornburrow, Lewis Herbert, and Rosy Moore asking for clarity on dates for phasing out herbicide use on verges (no reply).
"Dear Katie and Lewis
Very good to engage with you at the recent CLEF meeting. Apologies that we couldn’t stay until the end. But we covered a lot of ground and it is great to know you are both very supportive of our PAN-UK backed Pesticide-Free Cambridge campaign. As discussed, building on the herbicide ban in parks and open spaces is a real practical step to address the Biodiversity Emergency that the City Council has, of course, recognised. On that note, can you update us as to whether the City Council has now formally agreed to extend this ban to the road verges it manages on behalf of the County? We know from our previous talk with you, Katie, that this is scheduled to happen. If there is a link to this being formally approved we can then send that on to Pesticide Action Network UK to update their Pesticide-Free Towns page ( see here for their Success Stories page which links to the City's earlier decision on parks and open spaces). We have launched our petition to make Cambridge pesticide-free, and this is gaining momentum. In terms of next steps, we are very keen that the herbicide ban be extended not only to verges but also to pathways, roads, pavements and street infrastructure (lampposts, trees, benches etc...). If we are not spraying parks and verges, it makes little sense to continue to do so on adjacent roads, and paths which run through parks that are apparently herbicide-free. This also gives a confusing message to residents who have taken at face value the information on Council websites that spraying has been stopped in such places. From our previous discussion with you, Katie, and the Operations team, it seemed that this required 1) a commitment to trialling new equipment and 2) liaison with County Council. At the CLEF meeting you both agreed to work with the surrounding local authorities to address the major issues that were raised. Let's make this happen.On the subject of trialling equipment, I can quote from Pesticide-Free Newcastle: 'The weed control method that several local authorities and housing associations now use is a ride-on brush machine. These include Sheffield, Portsmouth, Cleveland, Penzance, Isle of Man and the University of Lincoln. A German company called Westermann produce a popular ride-on machine – Honda Brush Machine. . The chief distributor in the UK is Spa Power Machinery (tel. 0114 269119). These machines are convenient to use. They can resolve a complaint from the public about weeds very quickly.' But this is not the only alternative to herbicides - see the attached document. We know parked cars and awkward street infrastructure can make weeding difficult (that's what the Ops team said anyway), but we sincerely hope that we can push past that. Our petition also seeks to encourage the council to run an information campaign for highlighting the dangers of herbicide and insecticide-use by members of the public in their homes and gardens, and to work with businesses, schools and universities to make Cambridge pesticide-free. We hope that you will support us in this endeavour too.
20 January 2021
PFC attended Cambridge Labour Party Environment Forum (CLEF) meeting with Councillors Lewis Herbert and Katie Thornburrow. PFC outlined the aims and rationale for our campaign. Cllrs Thornborrow and Herbert made verbal commitment to work together with county and South Cambridgeshire with regards herbicides on verges.
6 Jan 2021
Cambridge Labour Party Environment Forum (CLEF) meeting with Cambridgeshire Mayor candidate Dr Nik Johnson. Discussion points included how linking of public health and wellbeing with a sustainable environment is important for the whole region. Unfortunately no-one from PFC was able to attend the meeting but we followed up on 7 Jan by email to the explain aims and objectives of our campaign. In reply, Dr Johnson extended his support for our campaign and expressed the wish for our aims to be replicated across the whole of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
13 January 2021
PFC launched our petition to City Council to
1. Commit to phasing out all synthetic, non-agricultural pesticides - including both herbicides and insecticides- in all areas that they are responsible for managing, within three years.
2. Trial non-toxic alternatives to weed management this year (2021) on pathways, roads, pavements and street infrastructure (lampposts, trees, benches etc) that it manages on the behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council, and to establish constructive dialogue with the latter in order to make Cambridge pesticide-free.
3. Establish a communications campaign, by the end of 2021 in liaison with partners across the city, including Pesticide-Free Cambridge, to encourage stakeholders, schools, business owners and members of the public to phase out and ultimately end pesticide use in the City of Cambridge.