Controversial weedkiller to be banned in Edinburgh’s parks

Saturday September 9th 2023

The Meadows Edinburgh

The Meadows in Edinburgh.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

A ban on the use of a controversial weedkiller in Edinburgh’s parks and greenspaces is set to be introduced next year.

The council said the move is part of a gradual phasing-out of herbicides containing glyphosate, which threatens bee colonies and has been linked to cases of cancer, over the next three years.

Other methods of controlling weeds include using vinegar, hot foam, pressurised hot water and mechanical sweeping – a combination of which will be utilised by the local authority as it moves away from chemical-based solutions.

Councillor Scott Arthur, transport and environment convener, said there was “growing pressure” to reduce glyphosate use from residents across the city who were concerned about it’s potential environmental and health impacts.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed earlier this year that almost 4,000 litres were sprayed across the capital last year – the most recorded in six years – despite councillors calling for a reduction as far back as 2015.

The risks involved with humans being exposed to glyphosate has been disputed; the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified it as “probably carcinogenic,” but the EU’s Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded it was unlikely to cause cancer.

However lawsuits against Monsanto – the company which produces glyphosate – have found played a significant factor in some cancer patients’ diagnoses, with billions paid out to claimants.

The wider impact has caused concern among wildlife experts; researchers found in a study conducted last year that the ability of honeybees to reproduce and sustain colonies was damaged when exposed to the toxic substance.

Union GMB has campaigned for a UK-wide ban since 2018 as it considers it a “severe health risk to workers”.

A report to Edinburgh’s Transport and Environment Committee next week has confirmed it will no longer be used in any parks and greenspaces across the city, from April 2024, following a decision by councillors in March to declare a ‘nature emergency’. The ban will not apply when invasive weeds need to be treated however.

The council will continue to spray chemical-based weedkiller on roads, carriageways and pavements where weeds grow but plans to completely wean itself off over the next three years.

Some parts of Edinburgh are already glyphosate-free at the request of local residents, including in Balerno where there is increased mechanical sweeping and ‘community weeding’ organised by the Pesticide Free Balerno group.

Cllr Arthur said: “There is growing pressure from residents to reduce the amount of chemicals we use on the street, at the same time as there is growing pressure to ensure streets are weed-free.

“The other concern is the damage weeds can do to the road and footpath surfaces and the council does have a responsibility to maintain trip-free footpaths and weeds can be part of the issue there.

“So there are tensions in amongst all this.”

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