There was an almost celebratory mood at this year's Amenity Forum conference as after 15 years of encouraging and cajoling the amenity sector to develop and share responsible pesticide use, its work is bearing fruit.
The forum has now grown to 47 members, many of whom have committed to the Amenity Assured standard run by BASIS that has now merged with the City & Guilds NAsOR and BAR schemes.
Meanwhile, Chemicals Regulation Directorate policy adviser Grant Stark has commended the forum for having "a significant effect" (see box).
Amenity Forum chair John Moverley told delegates: "I think we have made substantial progress. It's a great credit to everybody in the sector." However, he said is was still a way to go, pointing out that he despairs at how many politicians do not know what amenity is.
The Amenity Forum encourages a reduction of unnecessary pesticide use while sharing information on non-chemical methods and a combination of the two, which is known as the integrated approach.
This year's conference, held at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, on 16 October, featured a mix of contractors, scientists, local authority representatives and Government representatives as speakers, reflecting the variety in the amenity sector and among delegates.
Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) head of research Ruth Mann advised delegates that proper integrated pest management control starts with good planning - by positioning your pitch in the right place you can minimise the amount of weeds and pests cropping up in the first place, she said.
Grass that does not get enough sun will not grow, giving space for the wrong type of grass or shade-friendly weeds to grow instead, she explained.
The STRI has used technology used for measuring sunlight in the rainforest to map where a stadium will get sun throughout the day and it can give advice at the planning stage.
For those stadia already built, the solution is often to use artificial light, although Mann said that meant "a huge amount of energy and a huge amount of cost".
"A lot of stadiums we have at the moment don't have a chance," she said, adding that the industry needs to look for cultivars that are more tolerant and new light sources that are cheaper.
Oversowing bent grass, which is very susceptible to take-all patch, with fescue, for example, means that when the bent grass becomes infected the more tolerant fescue knits in and becomes the dominant species.
Ensuring that irrigation water is neither too acidic nor too alkaline is another tip, as is watching out for thatch. "We find multiple pathogens in thatch. It becomes a sponge in the winter time and then dries as hard as concrete in the summer," said Mann.
She added that biological control is becoming more and more important. Trichoderma has been authorised as a bio-pesticide in the USA for use against Pythium and Rhizoctonia but it is not particularly useful in the UK, where the latter two are not a big problem.
So far, UK trials have not delivered sufficiently consistent results to be commercially developed and that is an area that is just starting to develop, said Mann.
Danish academic Anne Mette Dahl Jensen, who conducts research on alternatives to pesticide use at Copenhagen University, told delegates that Denmark has reduced pesticide use by 88 per cent and completely eradicated its use in many municipalities after politicians decided in 1993 that they wanted groundwater to be safe for people to drink without treatment.
"We are not spraying for aesthetic reasons, we are spraying if it actually causes a problem," she said.
Now 23 per cent of local authorities do not use any pesticides at all and 23 per cent use them only to control invasive species. The government tracked pesticide use by employing an agency to do an inventory on local authority pesticide use every three years and also taxed pesticides with the proceeds going to pay for research into alternate methods.
However, Jensen pointed out that pesticide use has been rising in some areas in recent years because using alternative methods is considered too expensive.
David Wain, environmental technical officer at Streets Ahead in Sheffield, the largest local authority PFI scheme in the UK, took the opposite approach, saying he prefers to use a highly effective residual pesticide (chikara) carefully rather than a "safe product" (glyphosate) and "waving it around like a magic wand".
"If the operatives believe what they are spraying in their hand is a dangerous substance then they will take more care," he explained. This saves £750,000 a year compared with strimming.
Amenity Forum - Policy adviser highlights 'significant effect'
The Amenity Forum is having "a significant effect", Chemicals Regulation Directorate policy adviser Grant Stark has said.
The UK's experience of implementing the EU's Sustainable Use Directive has been "very happy", he added. "We've seen the industry step up to the plate. Schemes like Amenity Assured are a fantastic shortcut to make sure that you are doing the right things. Someone else has done all the hard work." But he warned that it is not wise to let up the pressure.
"You need to be aware that glyphosate is on the radar and being watched," said Stark.
"We realise it's not an easy sell, particularly when cost is such an issue. We've started to see the market responding. We are starting to see new machinery and techniques. This gives the Amenity Forum great credit."