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  • Pesticide-Free Cambridge

Pesticide-Free Schools, Universities & Colleges Meetings record

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

13 March 2023

Received email from Cambs County Councillors , saying 'we discussed these items in Labour group now and we are happy to endorse. Do please let me know who from the group you'd need - if it's our group leader [...] or the relevant committee chairs such as Children and Young People. We are all happy to put our name in support of the letters and guidelines'.

16 Feb 2023. Email to Cambridgeshire County Councillors (truncated/redacted version)

Further to the meeting we had on 27 January please see attached documents: i) a draft letter to go to schools; and ii) our Pesticide-free schools guide (also on our website here). As discussed at this last meeting and previously on 2 Sept 2022, (see records for both meetings on our blog here) it was agreed that the County and City councils would support a pesticide-free schools campaign based on such documentation that could then be forwarded to schools across Cambridgeshire.

Would you be able to show the letter and pesticide-free schools document to the relevant County and City officers to get their approval? We imagine County and City Council logos should feature at the foot of the letter alongside our own. Likewise, we will be sending this to the Combined Authority Mayor, Nik Johnson, who has similarly agreed to back the campaign, subject to seeing the documents (as per our meeting on 7 September 2022, see record here).

Many thanks for your support in this campaign. Helping to make Cambridge's schools go pesticide-free builds on the City and County Councils' commitment to go herbicide-free and is a huge leap forward towards making our environment greener, safer for the public at large, at the same time as addressing gaps in disability access rights and health equality.

13 Feb 2023. PFC email to Cllr Alex Bulat (Labour Cambridgeshire County Councillor for Abbey Division)

Thanks again for your time when we met on zoom on 27th January. You agreed then to take our Pesticide-free schools, business and residents letter, and pesticide-free Guide (revised drafts of which we will be sending out to you and others) to the Cambridge Labour Party meeting that was taking place the following Wednesday (1 Feb) for discussion. We wonder whether you managed to raise it and if so, what the response was like? It would be great to know if any formal decisions were taken to adopt or promote the guidelines. They are in line with the City Council's biodiversity strategy and climate emergency motions as well as of course the Herbicide-Free motion that was passed in July 2021, but as discussed, also feed into both public health and disability-access rights matters .

27 January 2023: Pesticide-Free Schools Meeting - PFC & Cambridgeshire County and Cambridge City Councillors


  • PFC (JS and BG)

  • Cllr Hillary Cox-Condron (HCC), County Councillor for Arbury

  • Cllr Neil Shailer (NS), City Councillor for Romsey and member of the County Transport and Highways Committee

  • Cllr Alex Bulat (AB), Labour County Councillor for Abbey division

Apologies from:

Cllr Bryony Goodliffe (BG), City Councillor for Cherry Hinton and member of the County Council Children and Young Persons Committee.


  1. Updates on action points from our previous Pesticide-Free Schools meetings on 2 Sept 2022. Discussion points and action points from two related meetings, with Mayor Nik Johnson and HCC on 7 Sept 2022, and with Phil Clarke and HCC on 12 Sept 2022 are also relevant. 1.1 PFC draft letter/information sheet, and our Pesticide-Free Guide to go out to schools (pre-circulated) for discussion on communication and distribution. 1.2 Potential schools for participation in campaign 1.3 Training and learning courses 1.4 Pesticide exposure as health equality and accessibility issue

  2. Update on where we are with Herbicide-Free Working group, still awaiting confirmed meeting date having not met since May 2022, and having not yet received any information from City Council on outcome of two-ward herbicide-free trials and commitments made in July 2021 to end all council herbicide spraying by end of 2022.

  3. UCL project.

Discussion points:

  • NS explained that County and City had been collaborating in the two-ward herbicide-free trials in Arbury and Newnham from Spring 2022. Herbicide-free alternatives used included steam treatments on drainage gates and reusing organic matter cleared out of roadside gulleys. Not using Glyphosate to spray the roadside and reusing material from the gutter saved the council considerable money, for instance not also having to buy compost and spend time dealing with the gutter waste. NS said that City would adhere to its agreement to have ceased all herbicide use on land it manages as of the end of 2022 and that the County Council was rolling out the same herbicide-free management practice across all five of the districts in Cambridgeshire. He expected, however, that this would still take time to filter down through contractors and sub-contractors but that the message is being actively communicated . JS asked whether the unpopular, heavy tarmacing of pavements in Newnham (see record for 13/7/22 here) was part of the new herbicide-free policy. NS indicated that it was not. NS was asked by PFC and HCC if he could provide a report outlining these decisions/developments.

  • PFC outlined the problem that Glyphosate and other pesticides (particularly insecticides used for ants and wasps) are widely used in school grounds and in and around school buildings, and that this threatens to compromise the benefit of the councils' Herbicide Reduction Plan. NS and HCC reiterated the support they had expressed during earlier meetings for the County and City Councils to give their formal backing to PFC’s Pesticide-Free Schools campaign. As was agreed during meetings on 2 and 7 September 2022 PFC has produced two documents, i) a letter to be sent to schools; and ii) a Guide outlining alternatives to synthetic herbicides and insecticides for dealing with weeds and insects in and around schools (See here for downloadable version). It was agreed that PFC would send drafts of both documents to Cllr Goodliffe in her capacity as member of Children and Young Person’s Committee and, separately, to Mayor Nik Johnson who during our 7 September 2022 meeting also expressed support.

  • Given the progress on Highways it was agreed that a County Council motion (discussed during our meeting of 15 July 2022 ) was no longer necessary, however, it was agreed that a County Council motion is required in order to properly frame urban pesticide-use and pesticide-exposure as an equality and disability access rights issue in addition to a biodiversity and public health issue. There was some discussion as to whether this would be best framed as a full council motion or a community paper. JS (PFC) further outlined the problematic absence of pesticides from the majority of service providers’ biodiversity and disability access policies and the need to remedy this through a motion that would call for full disclosure of past, present and future pesticide applications, as well as any pesticide-free measures already in place, to be properly embedded in both sets of public-facing policies. This would allow the general public to make informed decisions about using and supporting services from both a biodiversity and public health perspective, and would be crucial for those who have health concerns about pesticide-exposure in private and public spaces.

  • JS outlined a UCL project on pesticides and urban nature and a pilot-study, about to be launched, that will focus on Cambridge and the wder outcomes of the council's Herbicide-Reduction plan.

Action points:

  • PFC to send draft motion on pesticides, biodiversity, health equality, and disability rights to HCC, NS and AB (for HCC to take to the March Full Committee meeting).

  • PFC to send draft schools letter and Guide to BG (cc HCC, AB, NS).

  • PFC to send draft schools letter and Guide to Mayor Nik Johnson.

  • AB to discuss school letter and Guide at the next Cambridge Labour Group meeting.

  • PFC to follow-up with NS asking for documentation of policy regarding herbicide-free practice in the city, county and in the parishes, especially as we are still awaiting an update from City Council on how and when the lessons from the Spring 2022 two-ward trials are being rolled out.

12 Sept 2022: Pesticide-Free Schools meeting


  • PFC (JS & BG)

  • Phil Clarke, County Council Biodiversity and Green Spaces Manager, Place and Sustainability and Historic & Natural Environment

  • Hilary Cox Condron County Council Councillor for Arbury Ward

Summary of discussion points:

  1. Strengthening alliances to move forward with PFC pesticide-free schools campaign and to build our communications strategy aimed at the colleges and universities and the wider public.

  2. Non-synthetic pest and weed control measures across eight county nature reserves.

  3. Developing pesticide-free spaces is in the interests of biodiversity and public health but also disability rights, equality and access, and these factors should be better highlighted and celebrated accordingly on visitor websites etc.

Action points:

  1. PFC to contribute towards planned section on pesticide reduction within Doubling Nature scheme.

  2. PC to communicate outcomes of meeting to the County council – the Highways, Rural estates, schools.

  3. PFC to contact Strategic Parks and Green spaces (SPAG) group (formerly Future Parks accelerator project) to discuss possibly adding urban pesticide use as one of the themes discussed at their forum meetings, and to propose inclusion of SPAG as a signatory on letters and documentation that we are preparing for distribution amongst schools, colleges, universities, businesses, and residents. Future Parks may also offer a useful framework within which to tackle the use of pesticides and other turf-management chemicals on sports grounds that border, or form part of parkland and nature reserves.

  4. PFC to contact Natural Cambridgeshire to discuss building on existing collaborations such as the Cambridge City Council, PFC, Natural Cambridgeshire Happy Bee Street scheme.

  5. PFC and HCC to liaise over incorporating pesticide-free methods into training and learning courses, and developing the equality and accessibility side of pesticide use in Cambridge.

7 Sept 2022: PFC meeting with Dr Nik Johnson, Mayor of the Combined Authority


  • PFC (JS and BG)

  • Nik Johnson, Mayor of the Combined Authority

  • Alex Bulat County Cllr for Abbey ward (Labour)

  • Hilary Cox Condron County Cllr for Arbury ward (Labour)

  • Niel Shailer City Cllr for Romsey ward (Labour) and Vice-Chair of the County Council Highways Committee

Discussion points:

  1. PFC Pesticide-Free Schools campaign: embedding pesticide-free policies into long term practice.

  2. Relating campaign to Combined Authority’s Climate Policy and its commitment to address equalities.

  3. Developing pesticide-free training with Cambridgeshire Skills team.

Action points:

  1. PFC are developing a formal proposal to Mayor Johnson and they will include him in the documentation they are producing for City and County Council approval to go to schools and colleges, as well as a planned public information letter that PFC is working on for proposed distribution to residents by the City Council (as per their original pesticide-free petition which asks the council to take responsibility in raising awareness about the benefits of going pesticide-free)

  2. AB, HCC and NS agreed to let PFC know of potential schools from outside Cambridge itself that could participate in the pesticide-free school campaign. PFC already has several candidates within Cambridge itself.

2 September 2022: PFC Pesticide-Free Schools meeting with City and County councillors


  • PFC (JS and BG)

  • Alex Bulat County Cllr for Abbey ward (Labour)

  • Naomi Bennett City Cllr for Abbey ward (Green)

  • Mike Davey City Cllr for Petersfield ward (Labour) and Governor at Galfrid's School

  • Hilary Cox Condron County Cllr for Arbury ward (Labour)

  • Bryony Goodliffe City Cllr for Cherry Hinton ward (Labour) and Chair of the Children & Young People County Council Committee

Discussion points:

  1. PFC Pesticide-free schools campaign: how to embed within county council policy.

  2. Embedding pesticide-free policy into Eco schools certification procedures.

  3. Need to focus on selection of case studies including a) new build schools that have never used pesticides, b) those that shifted away from pesticide use, c) those that have reverted to using pesticides despite having experimented with pesticide-free measures, d) those using pesticides routinely. Where pesticide-free measures are implemented by one school within a larger academy, this can then be applied across the group.

Action points:

  1. The councillors universally agreed to back a joint communication strategy between PFC, City and County Councils to schools detailing: 1) the case for going pesticide-free; 2) the range of non-toxic alternatives that can be used instead of synthetic pesticides; and 3) some positive success stories.

  2. PFC to draft two documents for approval by City and County Councls: a) to explain the strategy internally to City and County Council; b) to communicate the strategy externally to schools.

  3. PFC and HCC to discuss how new council skills initiative could incorporate training on what's needed to go pesticide-free.

15 July 2022

Follow up letter from Cllr Hilary Cox Condron, further to our earlier meeting, cced to Cllr Bryony Goodliffe, Cllr Richard Howitt, Cllr Neil Shailer, Cllr Nick Gay, Cllr Alex Bulat.

"Following another meeting with Pesticide Free Cambridge I would like to gather learnings to date about the pesticide free trials in Arbury and Newnham. Do highways have any feedback?

I will continue conversations with Biodiversity officer and Natural Cambridgeshire about developing and supporting a campaign for 'Eco schools' to encourage committing to being pesticide free.

I will find out our current policies on pesticide and insecticide use on other county public spaces. Libraries? Parks?

I will research other programmes in place and other smaller trials.

I believe a ban on pesticides and insecticides in schools is our duty of care, in line with our climate change, biodiversity and health policies.

I would like us to commit to banning the use in schools education and awareness and lobbying.

15 July 2022: PFC / County pesticide-free towns and schools meeting


  • PFC (JS & BG)

  • Hilary Cox Condron County Cllr for Arbury ward (Labour)


  • Bryony Goodliffe City Cllr for Cherry Hinton ward (Labour) and Chair of the Children & Young People County Council Committee

Discussion and action points:

  1. HCC reported on county training on non-chemical alternatives to herbicides following mess-up in Spring 2022 when areas in Herbicide-free ward Newnham were mistakenly sprayed.

  2. PFC asked whether the tarmacking of pavements reportly taking place in Newnham right up to the edges is part of a new strategy to remove the cracks where pavement plants can grow.

  3. PFC called for better county representation at HRP working group meetings? HCC to discuss with Cllr Collis and Alistair Wilson.

  4. HCC to contact Lucy Nethsingha head of county council for support/action.

  5. Arbury library date for public PFC /More than weeds, Happy Bee streets event.

  6. HCC to ask county highways which kinds of alternatives are used if not using herbicides.

  7. HCC to check with Bryony Goodliffe which powers County have over schools with respect to pesticide use.

  8. HCC to draft a pesticide-free schools motion, with PFC input for next next full county meeting.

  9. Strengthening ties with Natural Cambridgeshire: HCC to facilitate meeting.

  10. Eco mark green flag for schools, Mayfield and Cambridge Curiosity & Imagination, PFC school visit a possibility.

  11. PCD and HCC to liaise over producing short films featuring interviews with our contacts at various local sports clubs that are going or have gone pesticide-free. 5 October 2021

18 May 2022: Herbicide spraying in Cambridge at 8.17 am this morning, in the middle of the busiest school commute time.

And despite commitments reiterated at recent Herbicide Reduction Scheme Working Group meeting (amongst a list of other commitments - see entry for 12 May 2022) to avoid all spraying between 8.00-9.00 and 3.00-4.00

Operatives were seen spraying on Mowbray Road (around the junction with Glebe Road ) and Holbrook Road (as shown in photo). At the time, Mowbray road was teeming with kids and families, being as it is a major commuting route to a number of schools in the area (Homerton Nursery, Perse Pelican, Queen Edith Primary, Perse Upper, Trumpington Community College to name just a few).

Children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic and endocrine disrupting impacts of glyphosate, and pesticides in general. This is why we've asked the council to inform schools in advance of spraying and to avoid all spraying during the time when children are walking or cycling to and from school. We took recent assurances that this is now part of council policy at face value, the logical conclusion being that we can safely assume that our children are no longer at risk of coming into direct contact with herbicides as they're being sprayed. We will report this instance (again) to Cambridge City Council Environmental Services and will repeat our request for no spraying to take place ANYWHERE in the city during the school commute period.

It isn't enough to avoid the roads immediately outside schools as obviously kids have to get to school from all over the city. Clearly this doesn't preclude kids coming into contact with herbicides in the two weeks that it takes for visual evidence to show up, hence our continuing to campaign for signage to be put up immediately after spraying, and for a complete ban of this horrible practice by the end of the year.

Please continue to send us photos and reports of any further contraventions of the council's policy regarding herbicide-use in areas beyond its two-ward herbicide-free trials (see second image here which lists some of the commitments reiterated at recent working group meeting).

8 January 2022

PFC meeting with Cllrs Alex Collis and Hilary Cox Condron. Alex Collis will send PFC the finalised city council pesticide report prior to the Environment & Community Strategy Committee meeting on 27th January 2022. It is at this meeting that the proposal for two specific herbicide-free wards will be voted on and the wards therefore finalised. It is still the city council’s intention to go completely herbicide-free as of January 1st 2023. Hilary Cox Condron, as a County councillor, stated that she will help promote the pesticide-free campaign to schools, especially in Arbury ward.

5 October 2021 PFC meeting with Chair of University of Cambridge Ecological Advisory Panel

University of Cambridge Ecological Advisory Panel is tasked with delivering the University’s 2020 Green Challenge Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). We are keen the BAP should acknowledge urban pesticide use as an obstacle towards achieving its goals. Currently the document contains only a single reference to pesticides (1.49 page 17), and that is in relation solely to agricultural practices. We discussed ways of remedying the situation and of working constructively together which will include in the first instance an audit of UoC pesticide use, and agreeing on a list of priority chemicals that should be tackled first.

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.

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.

5 May 2021. PFC meeting with Academy Group

Very encouraging meeting with Cambridge school to discuss ways of addressing pesticides in school grounds. Agreed that herbicides and insecticide powders for treating ants should be prioritised for phasing out first given that there are available alternatives for both.

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.

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.”

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.

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