Calls to stop use of weedkiller containing glysophate in East Sussex

Weeds on a pavementWeeds on a pavement
Weeds on a pavement
A motion calling on East Sussex County Council to stop the spraying of a controversial weedkiller has failed to win the support of a senior councillor. 

On Monday (November 22), Cllr Claire Dowling, the authority’s lead member for transport and environment, considered a notice of motion from Green councillors Wendy Maples and Julia Hilton, which calls on the council to begin using alternative methods to glyphosate and other toxic herbicides.

The motion is set to go to a full council vote in the near future. But, as is the usual process, the motion was first considered by the council’s lead member whose portfolio it falls under, in this case Cllr Dowling.

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In a report from officers, Cllr Dowling was advised the council was ‘committed’ to finding an alternative to glyphosate, but that the motion should not be supported as none would be ‘economically viable’ at present.

However, this recommendation saw criticism from Cllr Maples, who argued the report had failed to take proper account of a background document which was submitted as part of the motion. 

She said: “We are told it has been read and it has been taken account of in this report, but nothing in the background document is mentioned in the report. 

“There is nothing about biodiversity, there is nothing about pollinators, there is nothing about contradictions in policy and there is nothing about the drop off in efficaciousness. 

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“There is absolutely nothing from the background documents which includes up to date research, which have been done in a variety of different trials and a variety of different ways that is included in the report.”

Cllr Maples went on to argue the document showed that glyphosate becomes less effective over time and is toxic and disruptive to both nature and human health. This, she said, was a compelling reason for the council to abandon its use in all but the most severe cases.

The alternative would be to allow weeds to die naturally in most cases and, where this was not possible for safety reasons, to use alternative measures such as cutting and pulling or more modern methods such as hot water steaming. 

Similar arguments were made by Cllr Hilton, who also argued for more widespread opt-out schemes around the county and greater public information about when council contractors were using the substance. 

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Some other councillors attending the meeting took a very different view, however. For example Conservative councillor for Bexhill South Ian Hollidge argued for even greater use of herbicides in towns and other urban areas. 

He said: “I think there is a distinct difference between using glyphosate in rural areas and in urban areas. Whatever it is we are using in Bexhill isn’t currently working.

“We have our highways, our pavements and our carriageways with weeds that are persistent and keep growing year on year. So our existing system doesn’t seem to be working. 

“From what I’ve read of the report all the alternatives either don’t work to the same degree by breaking the whole plant’s protein down to the roots or they become so expensive that they become unviable. 

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“So I would strongly support the officers’ report and like to see even more, stronger, harsher weedkiller used, certainly in Bexhill. In the whole of Bexhill there isn’t one road where there aren’t weeds on the pavement or weeds on the road.”

A similar argument was made by Labour’s Godfrey Daniel (Hastings Braybrooke and Castle), who argued that using alternative methods would either be ineffective and expensive. He also  criticised the state of roads and pavements in Brighton, which is already in the process of cutting out glyphosate.

But these arguments saw criticism from Cllr Johnny Denis, co-leader of the council’s Green group, who said: “People are talking as if the glyphosate system is working. “Evidently, everybody complains throughout the county about how our pavements are strewn with weeds and are being erupt through weed growth.

“It actually sounds like a weed control system that is already in crisis. It doesn’t work!”

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Ultimately, Cllr Dowling agreed with the officers recommendation and will advise councillors to reject the motion when it comes to full council in the near future.  

She did, however, note that the council does want to move away from using the substance and pointed to trials of alternative measures set to take place next year.

Cllr Dowling said: “This is a very, very interesting motion and I know we have got very strong feelings on both sides. From stopping the use of, through right to the other extreme; that what we are doing isn’t good enough and we need to increase [weed spraying].

“The council has a statutory duty to maintain a safe network  and we do need a method which works on the entire highway network.

“Until we find something which is an alternative then we need to continue doing what we are doing. Equally the council is committed to finding that alternative.”