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Council to reduce use of controversial weedkiller

As well as promising to limit the use of glyphosate across "all service areas", Sheffield Council will trial a glyphosate-free zone in Nether Edge.

Brincliffe Towers in Chelsea Park Sheffield geograph 2873405

A glyphosate-free zone will be trialled in Brincliffe.

Neil Theasby on Wikimedia Commons.

Sheffield City Council have said they will reduce their use of the controversial weedkiller glyphosate "across all service areas", following a commitment from the Labour-Green Co-operative Executive.

The Council will also trial a glyphosate-free area in Brincliffe near Nether Edge, exploring alternatives including mechanical weed-pullers and new wildflower meadows.

Glyphosate, which is the main ingredient in products like Roundup, is designed to kill weeds and invasive species, but environmental campaigners say it also kills insects and reduces biodiversity.

“We understand the concerns around the use of glyphosate and in recent years our services have been working together to share best practice with other authorities around the country to find ways to reduce its use," said Paul Wood, executive member for Housing, Road and Waste Management.

"We regularly review the latest information available to find the most appropriate and responsible methods to treat weed growth across our green spaces and highways."

In November 2018 a California court ordered Roundup makers Monsanto to pay $83 million in damages to a groundskeeper who developed terminal cancer after using the product. Since then councils in Hammersmith & Fulham and Glastonbury have stopped using the substance, and some countries including the Netherlands, France and Austria have banned or restricted its use.

Glyphosate is current licenced for use in the UK until 2025, but some have called for the government to introduce legislation to outlaw it.

Sheffield Council said that as well as manual interventions they will also consider not treating weeds in some open spaces at all – a practice which recently caused controversy in Brighton.

In April last year, we revealed that Sheffield Council's use of glyphosate had reached a three-year high in 2020, with 4,681 tons of the substance being sprayed in the city. A petition started by campaigner Graham Wroe calling on them to stop using it entirely has now gained 6,604 signatures.

The council say they stopped using glyphosate in shrub beds, floral displays, rose beds, hedgerows and planted areas in October 2021. By April this year they plan to stop using on highway verges, as well as in parks, countryside sites and cemeteries, except on footpaths.

“After campaigning on this for several years I’m delighted that Green councillor Alison Teal made the most of her position on the Co-operative Executive to initiate the process to ban the use of the dangerous herbicide glyphosate,” said Wroe, who is a Green Party candidate for the ward that includes Brincliffe in May’s local elections.

“I look forward to working with residents who live in Brincliffe, helping them understand the importance of this trial. Glyphosate is dangerous to insects, birds and humans – the nature emergency means we need to stop using it for general purposes as soon as possible."

But Cllr Wood suggested that the Council have no plans to stop using glyphosate entirely, and warned that alternative techniques might change the look of parks and public spaces.

“Currently there are no comparable alternatives that achieve the same results as glyphosate, but we will continue to monitor and review the impact of new approaches, especially when it comes to public safety and visibility," he said.

"As a result, residents may start to notice things looking somewhat different and areas won’t have the same pristine look they perhaps had before.”

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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