Amenity and landscape leaders have used the major public platform of IoG Saltex to heap criticism on new pesticide laws and a succession of ministers for being "woolly" and "hopeless".
One of the best attended seminars at Windsor Racecourse on 4-5 September focused on knock-on effects of the Sustainable Use Directive, passed this July, and a national action plan that is out for consultation but due for implementation at the end of 2012.
"Amenity horticulture is a target," said safety consultant John Allbutt. "We have to ensure we observe best practice and look at alternatives. Yet there's no requirement for a certificate of competence to be kept up to date. It appears to be voluntary.
"We are very frustrated and have been consulting for two years. I have sat before three ministers - one was good, the other two hopeless - and our views were completely ignored. Ministers said the UK Government does not want to be seen to be gold-plating EU directives.
"They said they will stipulate minimum levels, which is what they have done. I am not optimistic with the continuation of this voluntary approach and weak legislation. It's all rather woolly, lacking in detail and pretty disappointing."
He added: "We will bumble along with several voluntary initiatives to try and persuade people to change - though we know that doesn't work - and be faced with swinging legislation and the loss of lots of chemicals when we show no improvement.
"We'll have all sorts of guidance but in the meantime you have to look at what you're doing. Do a pesticide inventory and ask: 'Am I using it because I'm allowed and it's in my comfort zone or should I be using an alternative?' That's what the Sustainable Use Directive is asking us."
He said integrated pest management (IPM) is "the biggie", adding: "What pesticides are left are under scrutiny but the Government is at loggerheads with Europe, which is a concern and would see the long history of a risk-based approached change."
BALI technical director Neil Huck said research in Holland found that using IPM is not all it was cracked up to be, but led to big increases in carbon emissions, more damaging to the environment than pesticides.
It could push up costs 40-60 per cent, he said, and suggested the best approach could be a "more or less" carbon-neutral hybrid involving wire brushes and sprays.
Huck criticised the voluntary aspects. He asked the seminar audience: "How many of you will spend on training if you don't have to?"
Potential increase in the cost of using integrated pest management as a result of changes to pesticides legislation - 60%.