Campaign leads Bristol to rethink pesticide use

Bristol is the latest city to consider cutting glyphosate from its weed control arsenal in response to an anti-pesticide campaign.

The newly-formed campaign group Pesticide Safe Bristol Alliance, supported by Friends of the Earth and the Pesticide Action Network UK, has called on Bristol's mayor to stop urban pesticide use, except as a last resort for species such as Japanese knotweed.

The group is running an online survey to gauge public opinion about pesticides in the city, including asking the public whether they could "tolerate slightly more 'weedy' looking roads, parks and play areas" in the name of cutting down.

A council spokesperson said new ideas are always welcome but safety, quality and practicality all must be considered. In addition to the UK's "rigorous approvals process" for pesticides, Bristol also aims to keep pesticide use to a minimum, said the spokesperson. The city's grounds maintenance team routinely uses manual clearance, mulch, mechanical sweeping and close planting to suppress weeds, along with chemical controls.

However, "in keeping with the city's status as European Green Capital 2015 and in light of concerns about the pesticide glyphosate, we are currently looking to see if there are any other viable methods that could be adopted as a substitute".

Cost, staff hours and product quality are all being taken into account as part of the review. The council's parks service expects to spend £53,000 this financial year on weed-suppression measures on hard surfaces and around obstacles that cannot be mowed, as well as killing invasive plants and suppressing weeds in planting beds and meadows.

Green Party councillor Gus Hoyt questioned mayor George Ferguson on the use of glyphosate by the council and its contractors in September, but the council has not yet disclosed full details of what is used and where, citing possible concerns about commercial sensitivity.

A Freedom of Information request filed by PlaySafe Bristol has also not been answered within the statutory 20-day time limit. A local authority spokesperson confirmed this and said an investigation is being carried out into why the deadline was not met.

Harriet Williams of PlaySafe said the city's residents have a right to know what chemicals are being sprayed in their area, adding it is "entirely possible to wean ourselves off chemical weed control in public spaces". She added: "Cities like Paris, Chicago and Vancouver are already doing it, and as European Green Capital 2015 it would be brilliant if Bristol followed suit."

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