Reducing and Eradicating Pesticides and Herbicides

The scrutiny around the use of pesticides and herbicides has increased massively in recent years, and there is more scientific evidence to prove that they are harmful to both human health and the environment. Herbicides are used by organisations to control a range of weeds, often on hard surfaces, such as paths, pavements, and within natural environments. More widely, they are used in schools, parks, gardens, playgrounds, hospitals, and on our streets. These are all areas used daily by members of the public and often by those most vulnerable to the adverse effects of pesticides; elderly people, young children, pregnant women, and those with underlying health conditions.

Pesticide and herbicide applications can have serious human health impacts, harm biodiversity, and contaminate water supplies. There is growing evidence that glyphosate – the most commonly-used ‘systemic’ weed killer – is a higher health risk than previously assumed, with a growing understanding of the damages caused by other chemical weed killers and pesticides to health and the environment. In April 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer – which is part of the World Health Organisation – concluded that Glyphosate, the most widely used pesticide in our urban areas, is “…probably carcinogenic to humans”.

These chemicals have a negative effect on urban wildlife and have been identified as a contributory factor in the decline of butterflies, bees, insects, birds, mammals, and aquatic species. Pesticides sprayed onto the hard surfaces in towns and cities can rapidly run off into drains and sewers and find their way into water supplies. The cost of removing pesticides from our water supplies runs into millions of pounds per annum. Pesticides do not only pollute waterways; they leach into soil and kill susceptible microorganisms and earthworms, which reduces soil fertility and structure, creating an unhealthy monoculture.

The first step to change is always establishing a baseline. What chemicals are being used, what quantities and why? Data needs to be gathered over a period to give quantifiable information. This can then be reviewed to explore what alternative solutions and options are available that ultimately lead to a reduction or removal of herbicide and pesticide usage.

“When planning to reduce or stop the use of herbicides, the most critical first point is to be aware that there is no silver bullet – there is no like-for-like replacement. To make a successful transition away from herbicide use, the non-chemical alternatives deployed have to comprise a mixture of techniques and approaches backed up by a sensible, achievable strategy and the political will to see the plan through over the long term (Pesticide Action Network). The bleak reality is that pesticides and herbicides have a detrimental impact on the natural environment, killing biodiversity, and damaging human health but on the positive side; greener technology and eco-friendly control methods are much more readily available and have come on leaps and bounds in recent years.

My advice is always to make that positive step and get the ball rolling because an audit will help an organisation gauge where it is currently and help to set out steps to a greener and cleaner operation.

Tom Wood

Tom Wood

Tom Wood is a Chartered Horticulturist with international experience in the amenity horticulture and landscape sector.

He holds operational and project management experience in both the public and private sector and has expertise in the management of parks, gardens and green spaces.

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