A new petition launched by Professor Dave Goulson and supported by a host of conservation and health charities is calling for the UK Government to ban the use of pesticides in urban areas & end their sale for use in gardens. The petition’s launch coincides with the publication on 5 August of “Silent Earth”, a new book which outlines how the decline of wild bees and other insects are a potential catastrophe for us all.
Professor Dave Goulson, author of “Silent Earth” and creator of the petition, said “It is simply crazy to spray poisons in our streets, parks & gardens for cosmetic purposes, where they harm bees & other wildlife & pose a risk to human health. We rely on insects to deliver a range of vital “ecosystem services” – such as pollination, and recycling of corpses & dung. They are food for many larger organisms. Without them, our ecosystem will collapse.”
As outlined in Goulson’s book, thirteen UK bee species have already gone extinct. Britain’s butterfly population has halved since the 1970s, with one in ten butterfly species becoming extinct.
As well as listing alarming evidence of the extent of insect declines in the UK and abroad, “Silent Earth” also presents a range of solutions. It argues that one key way to help combat insect decline is to encourage wildlife in urban areas. The UK’s 22 million gardens, plus parks, road verges & other green spaces could form a network of wildlife friendly habitats. However, this will only work if we stop spraying pesticides in these spaces.
At present, many local councils spray pesticides on pavements, the edges of paths in parks, and even in children’s playgrounds. The most commonly used pesticide, Roundup, is harmful to bees, damages soil health, and is strongly suspected of causing non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in humans.
Similarly, many homeowners buy and use pesticides in their gardens, with no training, and often without wearing protective clothing. An extensive range of pesticides are readily available to consumers – sold by garden centres, DIY chains, and even most supermarkets, including chemicals that are classified as carcinogens and neurotoxins.
According to Prof Goulson, none of this pesticide use is necessary or desirable. It makes no contribution to food production and safe and sustainable alternatives for weed control are available, where necessary.
Elsewhere, some countries and many cities have already banned urban pesticide use to help protect insects and human health. France banned all use of synthetic pesticides in public spaces in 2017, and banned garden use from 2019. In Canada, 170 cities and towns are pesticide-free, some of them having been so for 30 years. More than 70 towns and cities across the UK have already taken major steps towards going pesticide-free, including boroughs of London and Manchester, Derry in Northern Ireland and North Lanarkshire in Scotland. These and other examples from around the world prove beyond doubt that these chemicals are not needed.
As well as being unnecessary, pesticide use in urban areas is unpopular. Public polling commissioned by Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) and Sum of Us reveals that 68% of people think that their local schools, parks, playgrounds and other open spaces should be pesticide-free.
Josie Cohen from PAN UK said “Increasing numbers of local councils and amateur gardeners across the UK are moving away from using toxic pesticides and instead adopting the many safe and sustainable alternatives that are available. Ending pesticide use in urban areas and gardens is an achievable goal that would be a massive win for the health of both humans and wildlife.”
The petition is supported by:
PAN UK, RSPB, Alliance for Cancer Prevention, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill Campaign, Friends of the Earth, Garden Organic, Greenpeace, Organic Farmers & Growers, Parkinson’s UK, Real Farming Trust, Savitri Trust, Soil Association, Songbird Survival & Wildlife Gardening Forum.
Some FAQs about an urban and garden pesticide ban
How would I deal with unwanted pests and weeds in my garden without pesticides?
More and more people are moving towards a more organic approach to growing flowers, plants and food. Using toxic chemicals kills not only the so-called pest or weed, but creates health hazards for the beneficial wildlife that play a part in controlling the pests in our gardens & green spaces. Healthy growing works on the principle of prevention, rather than cure. A healthy soil with plenty of nutrients and growing a wide variety of different plants help. Growing flowers with vegetables attracts beneficial wildlife, such as caterpillar-eating birds and aphid-eating insects.
What about invasive and non-native plants, like Japanese Knotweed?
Invasive species can be a serious concern for local authorities and gardeners alike. There are legal requirements and health and safety issues that mean species such as Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed must be controlled and eradicated. There are a growing number of non-chemical alternatives available for dealing with invasive species (such as electronic control systems that kill stems and roots instantly). However, the vast majority of invasive species control continues to be done with pesticides.
In the event of an urban and garden pesticides ban, demand for non-chemical, invasive species control would rocket, bringing new technologies and lower costs. Where it proves ineffective, we would envisage case-by-case exemptions allowing the use of pesticides in very specific cases. Even then, a technique that keeps the use of herbicides to an absolute minimum should be used, such as herbicide injection directly into the stem. Rather than being applied by a foliar spray, it reduces the amount of pesticides being used and the possibility of any spray drift onto adjacent areas. This would be a far cry from the current situation in which spraying pesticides is considered the only line of defence against invasive species.
Find out more in PAN UK’s guide for local authorities, as part of the Pesticide Free Towns campaign.
What might an urban and garden pesticides ban look like?
Other countries have already banned pesticides in urban spaces and for amateur use. France banned all use of synthetic pesticides in public spaces in 2017, and banned garden use from 2019. You can find accessible information on what the ban in France looks like here.