Local environmental groups, activists and Labour councillors have launched a petition calling on Portsmouth City Council to stop using pesticides and herbicides in public places and to consider alternative ways of managing wild plants. Over 500 local residents have signed so far.
The petition relates to a motion submitted by Labour councillors, Cllr Charlotte Gerada and Cllr Judith Smyth to the Portsmouth City Council Full Meeting taking place on Tuesday 19 July. The motion challenges the Liberal Democrat administration to commit to the phasing out of all pesticide use in public spaces.
The motion calls on the Cabinet to commission trials of a wide range of non-chemical and mechanical alternatives for weed treatment and management and to request council officers report back the findings within six months.
It also asks the Cabinet to involve local communities in becoming a pesticide-free city, including ensuring the council communicates the benefits of stopping pesticide use and invites residents to take part in trialling other methods of weed management. It also requests that Portsmouth City Council delivers a phased withdrawal from the use of all pesticides, including glyphosate, over a period of three years, using methods tested in the aforementioned trials. This includes all of the council’s subcontractors, such as Colas.
Portsmouth Labour councillors and campaigners, along with environmental groups and activists have brought this motion forward because at present, a variety of pesticides are currently used by Portsmouth City Council, including biocides, fungicides (e.g. Rugby Taylor Foremost), herbicides (e.g. glyphosate) and insecticides (e.g. Adama Aphox). They are applied in all hard areas and landscapes within the PFI network, parks and open spaces, cemeteries, schools and communal areas of housing land across Portsmouth.
This is despite a growing body of evidence of the dangers of unrestricted use of pesticides and herbicides, and in particular, of glyphosate to pollinators, the environment and biodiversity. This is in addition to the carcinogenic risk posed to humans.
Cllr Charlotte Gerada, Deputy Leader of the Labour Group and proposer of the motion, said: “A motion on banning pesticides was debated at Full Council last year, but unfortunately it didn’t lead to any further action by the council. It was reported that the council is already doing enough and the use of pesticides and herbicides can’t be withdrawn any further.
“This is wholly unacceptable, given the growing body of evidence about the detrimental impact pesticides have on pollinators, like bees, our environment and biodiversity. Not to mention the potential health risks to humans – that includes us, as residents, but also the workers who are doing the spraying. Our council should join the dozens of others across the UK that are taking up effective, affordable alternative methods of wildflower management and ban the pesticides from public spaces for good.”
Paula Savage, environmental campaigner said: “We need to understand the brilliance of our natural ecosystems and nurture all forms of biodiversity, this includes wild plants and flowers that grow on our streets. There are many other ways to keep them under control. The pesticides we are using are basically a poison and we need to stop spraying them, FULL STOP.”
Jane Shepherd, community campaigner said: “Councils are often nervous of banning chemical weed control because they think there will be a public backlash against ‘untidy’ streets, but if you work with communities to hand weed and help trial alternatives, then people will get on board. The benefits of banning pesticides far outweigh any downsides and ‘untidy’ streets are not the same as neglected streets.”
Portsmouth Friends of the Earth said: “Friends of the Earth are encouraged by the steps already taken to increase biodiversity in Portsmouth. However, the argument that alternatives to pesticide for weed control is too expensive falls away if their principle of minimising street plant extermination is followed more robustly.”
Cllr Judith Smyth, St Jude Labour councillor and proposer of the motion, said: “The elimination of pesticide use in Portsmouth is essential if we are to improve biodiversity and contribute to carbon reduction. The sooner this can be done, the better. This is not something to be kicked into the long grass!”