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Sidmouth councillor praises phasing out of pesticide use by East Devon District Council

By Will Goddard

6th Apr 2022 | Local News

'Hot foam' weed killer (BBC News). Inset: Cllr Denise Bickley (EDDC)
'Hot foam' weed killer (BBC News). Inset: Cllr Denise Bickley (EDDC)

The use of environmentally damaging and potentially carcinogenic pesticides to kill weeds on East Devon District Council (EDDC) property will be phased out by September.

Streetscene, which cleans and maintains public spaces in East Devon including parks, public gardens and council-owned toilets, has been given the go-ahead to make the move following a vote by EDDC's cabinet.

It means calling time on the use of glyphosate, the most commonly used pesticide in the district's urban areas. Woody weed killers will also be banned. Right now these herbicides are used on paths and pavements, including in schools, parks, gardens, playgrounds and hospitals.

"These are all areas used on a daily basis by our residents and visitors – and often by those most vulnerable to the adverse effects of pesticides; elderly people, young children, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions," a council report warned.

The harmful chemicals will be replaced with a vinegar solution from the Royal Horticultural Society which has been trialled with "some success." It will be combined with manual weeding and two 'hot foam' weed control machines, expected to cost £67,000.

Hot foam machines work by creating a 'thermal blanket' that keeps water at a high temperature when placed on weeds, killing or significantly damaging the plants.

Streetscene says it has ruled out using 'flame guns' to treat the problem due to their reliance on fossil fuels. The devices use an estimated 61kg of fossil fuel gas per hectare.

Speaking to EDDC's cabinet, Tom Wood, deputy Streetscene manager said: "There needs to be an understanding that we will see a slightly higher prevalence of weeds across our towns and parishes."

He concluded that although there is "no magic wand in replacing glyphosate as it is so effective" the positive impact on the environment will outweigh the downsides.

When asked why pesticides couldn't be phased out sooner Mr Wood said it will take until September this year to prepare staff and arrange equipment. Deputy leader of EDDC, councillor Paul Hayward (Independent East Devon Alliance and Democratic Alliance Group, Yarty) added: "It is a significant issue but we are addressing it – it just takes a little bit of time."

A council report outlined the environmental problems with pesticides, saying their use "has a negative effect on urban wildlife, and has been identified as a contributory factor in the decline of butterflies, bees, insects, birds, mammals and aquatic species.

"Pesticides sprayed onto the hard surfaces in towns and cities can rapidly run off into drains and sewers and find their way into water supplies. The cost for removing pesticides from our water supplies runs into millions of pounds per annum.

"Pesticides do not only pollute waterways; they leach into soil and kill susceptible microorganisms and earthworms, which reduces soil fertility and structure, creating an unhealthy monoculture."

Councillor Denise Bickley (Independent East Devon Alliance and Democratic Alliance Group, Sidmouth Town) assistant portfolio holder for climate action and emergency response, praised the move, describing glyphosate as a "hideous chemical."

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