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  • Pesticide-Free Cambridge

Press Release following Cambridgeshire County Council's return to use of herbicides

26 January 2024



Pesticide-Free Cambridge made the following statement:


“We are very disappointed by Cambridgeshire County Council’s announcement that it is reversing its much-welcomed decision of last year to stop using herbicides on its Highways. It is particularly disappointing that in recent interviews reported on in the media, the County Councillors fail to mention Cambridge City Council’s successful Herbicide Reduction Plan that was launched in 2022 following the July 2021 herbicide-free motion. This included herbicide-free trials in two wards (extended to four last year), the launch of a Happy Bee Street community adoption scheme, and a city- wide herbicide-free rollout as of Spring 2023 (excluding Local Authority housing estates outside the four trial wards)."


"The County Council have by their policy reversal shown a blatant disregard for the ecological emergency that we are facing globally and locally. However, we are reassured to note that their new position allows for exceptions in areas where there is support and infrastructure for herbicide-free methods. Given that the City council have already demonstrated their commitment to wildlife and public health-friendly practices through their own movement away from herbicides, we are confident that its Herbicide Reduction Plan will continue unhindered. In particular, we are extremely encouraged by the amazing progress reported on at recent meetings of Cambridge City Council’s Herbicide-Reduction Working Group of which we are members, regarding plans to purchase a range of equipment for consolidating herbicide-free practices across the city, including training of operative staff who have been supportive of the new measures."



"We will continue to encourage the City Council to expedite its plans for a coherent residents communication strategy so that everyone is aware of its reasons for sticking to its herbicide-free policy in contrast to the County’s increasingly tone- deaf and frankly, shocking, position in this regard."


"We are particularly concerned that prior to the County Council’s decision in March 2023 to go herbicide-free, they evidently failed to establish trial areas or to implement alternative methods, as Cambridge City Council did as part of its own Herbicide Reduction Plan that was launched in Spring 2022 following the July 2021 motion. The data quoted in the appendix of the County Council’s Review of the Highways Operational Standards in Relation to Weed Management, clearly reflect documentation provided by Cambridge City Council in 2022, and it only mentions the city's two-ward trial (which began in spring 2022), with no reference to later developments. In fact, the two-ward trial was widened to four wards in spring 2023 and, indeed, to the whole city (excluding council housing areas outside the original four wards) that same spring. It is unclear whether the county council consulted the city council on how it is went about managing vegetation growth on the highways within the city."


"Moreover, from some of the complaints that are referenced in a recent article, it is unclear which, if any, alternative methods, the County used during its ‘herbicide-free’ period. This is hardly a basis from which to judge or demonstrate to the public the efficacy of herbicide-free methods!"


"The Appendix B of the Review, quotes verbatim the city council's review of alternative weed treatments. This table originally dates from a January 2022 report, and in the ensuing two years, the city council has obviously built up extensive experience in managing the highways without herbicides. In the Review, the City Council's experience is painted as a very negative one; 'increasing costs of the deep cleans' and 'additional costs' (Review 3.10 vii). In fact, we know from our regular attendance at the city council's Herbicide-free Working Group, set up in summer 2022, that its herbicide-free regime has generally been well-received, with most complaints reflecting the unfortunate perception that ‘herbicide- free’ means doing nothing at all."


“We know from discussions at recent working group meetings, that there are clear plans to improve on the current position, without reverting to herbicides as the County Council have now done. For example, City Council recently trialled a range of new weed-removing equipment that performs well over a variety of environments and that has been well received by council operatives. Recent trials of this equipment have gone very well and allocation for this equipment will be in the proposed city council spring budget”.

“Instead, the county has spent time canvassing district, town and parish councillors. This was part of an overall review in autumn 2023 (3.6-3.8). It is referred to as a ‘public survey’ (3.11) though 103 responses, all from councillors, hardly constitutes a true survey of public opinion. Nor, it seems, did the county effectively communicate to the public the reasons for implementing the herbicide-free policy."


"The county’s decision to go ‘hard stop’ was framed as a financial decision to save £120,000 p.a. (2.3). There seems to have been no effort to publicise the benefits of going herbicide-free, which are in short: improving public health, biodiversity and disability access and inclusivity. Reviewing the herbicide-free regime after barely six months with little or no public communication about the change in policy, in an exceptionally wet year with unusually high vegetation, it is not surprising there has been some resistance. In addition, there is no mention of the county having reduced the number of times they cut the verges (from 6 to 3 times a year) which itself represents a saving. Surely that frees up operational time that could be redirected to the increase in vegetation management?”


“The County Council's Review document points out that glyphosate-based treatments are licensed for use by the HSE in the UK. However, there is a mounting body of evidence linking glyphosate with cancer, chronic diseases, endocrine disruption, and developmental problems: millions of dollars have been awarded in damages against Bayer, the manufacturer of glyphosate, in favour of users who have developed non-Hodgkin’s

lymphoma. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has labelled glyphosate as 'probably carcinogenic'. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with existing allergies and sensitivities, are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of pesticide exposure, even at very low doses. Being water soluble, glyphosate enters the soil and the water table. Not only does it kill off flowers and other vegetation – food sources for pollinators and other invertebrates – there is strong evidence that is it harmful to insects, microbial soil organisms and aquatic life."


“The County’s Review document says that the City Council has identified a risk to historic infrastructure (3.10 vi) through the use of mechanical equipment to remove vegetation. This is not the whole story. We know that this was a concern raised at a Herbicide-Reduction working group meeting on 9 May 2023, but during that meeting, we had pointed the city council to the fact that historical built environments were managed efficiently through mechanical means prior to the development of chemical weed control . We have had assurances from the city council that they do not intend to switch back to herbicides in the historic city centre”.


“As many know, the City Council manages County highways in the city boundary under a contract with the County Council. Before the City Council’s Herbicide-Free Motion of July 2021, we had been told that the County Council contract required the City Council to use herbicides. After some digging, we discovered that this was not the case. The County do not dictate precisely how the City manages the highways, road channels, verges or pavements, and moreover they were opposed to the use of herbicides on their estate in the first place. This was key to our being able to persuade the City Council to go herbicide- free."


"Going forward, we do not believe that the County's decision to reverse its herbicide- free policy has any implications for the City Council's herbicide reduction plan. The City Council has rolled out its herbicide-free management regime following extensive trials and training. Their commitment to improve vegetation management on the highway, purchase new equipment and to properly communicate with the public is welcomed.”


Further information: www.pesticidefreecambridge.org 

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