Painting the shape of a fish by a street drain might seem a strange thing to do, but it was a popular idea at this year's Amenity Forum conference (King Power Stadium, Leicester City FC, 17 October).
The fish, which alerts people that the drain leads directly to a river and not a sewer, could be a symbol of the forum's aims. Making sure that amenity chemicals go down the right drain fits in with the forum's proactive and responsible approach to herbicide use.
The industry is facing a firestorm of regulation. Following the EC Sustainable Use Directive in 2009 and UK legislation in 2012, Defra published Biodiversity: The UK Action Plan in February and is now reviewing current codes of practice.
The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) has demanded improved water quality in the UK since 2003 and Defra is now consulting on further water issues with a focus on urban areas and water run-off.
The variety of chemicals available to amenity professionals has dramatically shrunk and the remaining stalwart, glyphosate, is to become a UK-specific pollutant and be monitored under the WFD.
According to Crop Protection Association (CPA) chief executive officer Nick von Westenholz, research and development of new chemicals is slowing because companies think bringing them to market is too risky.
So it was fitting that representatives from the Government, industry and science addressed the conference, under the banner "Meeting the Challenge of Change".
Chemicals Regulations Directorate head of policy and implementation Adrian Dixon summed up the mood, calling for "standards developed by the industry, for the industry".
The Environment Agency's Jo Kennedy said she has not seen glyphosate levels rise following the ban on Diuron. But she warned that of 100 of the UK's 650 surface water drinking-catchment areas are at risk of pesticide contamination. The biggest problems are to do with slug pellets and diffuse pollution.
The agency is planning a localised strategy with 100 partnerships in England and Wales to "find ways of addressing these issues in an imaginative way". The drain fish idea came as a result.
Dealing with sprayer nozzle leaks is one way the industry could reduce chemical use and save money, according to the National Sprayer Testing Scheme services manager Duncan Russell.
He said only 300 amenity sprayers have been tested this year out of 15,000. Of those tested, 22 per cent had nozzle leaks, 22 per cent static leaks, 20 per cent leaked when under pressure and nine per cent leaked from the chemical induction system.
"Leaks and drips are the vast majority of faults we're finding on machines - and we're testing the best machines," he said. Russell outlined tests that showed increased drift when using the wrong nozzle or by spraying at height.
By law, all sprayers except handheld and knapsack types must be tested by 26 November 2016. Delegates were unimpressed by this demarcation and questioned testing only every five years. Russell could not say what will happen to companies that do not to test their machines.
The CPA's Nick Von Westenholz said there is a lack of public understanding on the important role of pesticides in food growing and a de facto concern about exposure and residues left in food. This added to a dogmatic approach by non-government organisations.
"It's for us as an industry to make sure that we observe best practice and mitigate that," he added. Von Westenholz estimated that without pesticides, UK food prices will rise by around 40 per cent, but he suspects it will not be until this happens that there will be an outcry against pesticide bans.
Public perception is also an issue on invasive weeds. David Layland of Japanese Knotweed Control said there is a need to change the feeling of doom. Some £1.7bn is spent controlling invasive species in the UK each year, including £70m on the 2012 Olympic site alone.
"The central message is to get it right the first time," he said. "Once you've got a problem you need to map the area completely and make sure that everyone knows what they need to do. Get it right first time to minimise costs."
The Thanet Weed Project has been operating a scientific study comparing herbicide, non-herbicide and integrated approaches. East Malling Research project leader Dr Michelle Fountain said at first the team found weeds hard to control with the integrated approach, but after three years it produced the best results, using less than 50 per cent herbicide. But it used more energy and gave out more greenhouse gases.
The chief executives of the Institute of Groundsmanship and the British & International Greenkeepers Association, Geoff Webb and Jim Croxton, said some education of the public is needed as grounds professionals, like Leicester City FC's Ed Mowe, understand the integrated approach. Webb pointed out that as more community sports facilities are run by volunteers, high pesticide use linked to poor education will become a bigger issue.
Firestorm of legislation How to ensure chemicals compliance
- Promote training, continuing professional development and standards schemes.
- Ensure regular calibration of equipment and technical checks.
- Consider use of low-risk pesticides and biological controls in sensitive areas.
- Choose products and method of application carefully.
- Mitigate risks to water and minimise use where there is higher risk of run-off.
- Ensure careful handling, storage and disposal.
- Follow integrated pest-management principles.
- Consider specific issues such as managing herbicide resistance.
- The Amenity Forum continues to develop and update best-practice guides.
- Report UK usage and sales data to the EU under EU statistics regulation.