What can be done in the event of a pesticide ban? Is there any equipment to help maintain estates such as college campuses?

The EU Environment Committee recently voted in favour of proposals to withdraw the use of pesticides in all public amenity areas, but until the European Parliament votes on 24 September we do not know what the situation will be regarding the control and use of pesticides.

There may be a ban, there be some form of local control whereby permission would have to be sought to apply pesticides or there may be some other forms of control.

In the UK, the amenity industry has strived to eliminate unnecessary and wasteful application of pesticides. We have statutory and voluntary controls concerning their use and a good record of safety. But in the event of pesticides being severely restricted, we will have to be prepared to look for alternative means of combating weeds, pests and diseases in amenity areas. Alternatives, however, are likely to have significant
financial implications.

Some alternatives are already used in the UK. We already consider where weeds can be tolerated and where they must be eliminated for safety, health and hygiene reasons. Wire brushes and steam are two ways of removing weeds from paved areas but such processes are not without limitations. They can be labour intensive, must be done regularly and may cause damage to the surface.

Mulch is widely accepted as a means of eliminating weeds from beds and borders. Hand weeding is usually deemed inappropriate, except on tiny areas, due to cost — but an intensive programme of hoeing does have the ability to reduce the amount of weeds over time.

A big concern would be the maintenance of healthy turf for recreation, sports and golf. A pesticide ban would make it improbable that groundsmen and greenkeepers could prepare pitches or courses to the standards for which the UK is envied. Local control of pesticides would mean applying for a licence — meaning paperwork and time delays.

For turf, we will be relying on resistant cultivars and building up the turf’s immune system through the careful, planned and correct use of fertilisers,
biostimulants, mycorrhizal fungi and other treatments. Greater emphasis will be required on irrigation and drainage to maintain optimum moisture content. Aeration will become a priority to keep oxygen levels right. Mowing equipment will have to be 100 per cent perfect in terms of sharpness and setting. Thatch will require urgent attention and weeds will be eliminated by hand — carefully.

All these things are inter-related. Get one wrong and another will start to suffer. And the cost could be phenomenal for those areas already under the strain of financial cutbacks. It’s not the kind of treatment we can expect local authority pitches to receive. And yet if they don’t, weeds, pests and diseases will threaten the integrity of the surface, cause hazards and reduce the playing experience.

In such situations a solution would be fraize mowing with equipment such as the Koro Field Top Maker and BLEC’s GKB Combinator. These tractor-mounted units are deemed “contractor” kit but do an excellent job of rejuvenating turf. Using Koro equipment, Arsenal FC annually renovates all its training pitches in this way — but it’s difficult to imagine local authorities undertaking such work.

But let’s not jump the gun. The Amenity Forum has lobbied UK MEPs to urge them to vote against any proposals to withdraw pesticides approvals in public amenity areas. We must await the vote.

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