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June 2021 - Pesticides



If you enter the Rec from Grosvenor Rd, you may have noticed that the area along the base of the fence (opposite the beech hedge) is not looking quite as manicured as elsewhere. That’s because we’re working with the Council to try to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, the routine use of herbicides within the park.

The council has already gone some way to achieving this and we’ve contributed, by not having used any chemicals in the clearing and planting of the garden.
The one area that’s still sprayed is along the base of the fencing around the central zone. The main reason is because the mower can’t get in tight to the fence which leaves a strip of uncut grass and ‘weeds’. Strimming would be one answer to the problem, but unfortunately the council no longer have the time or resources to be able to do this. Another option is to leave that strip just to grow and do its own thing. But that requires us to examine our expectations of how parks and gardens should actually look and be managed.


Untreated fence line


Fence line treated with herbicides

Having grown up in the 1950s and 60s, I recall the era of crazy paving and pristine square lawns neatly edged with straight borders containing bedding plants such as French marigolds and begonias. Not a thing out of place and any native species, be it flowers or insects, were peremptorily dispatched. It was the start of the chemical revolution in our gardens and the pesticides and artificial fertilisers that proliferated helped our lawns achieve that ‘Bowling Green’ look with minimal effort. There were herbicides to remove any daisies or dandelions that might presume to invade the area, a bit of moss killer to add to the mix, and then some insecticide to kill any leatherjackets or other beasties lurking in the lawn; never mind that the starlings would remove them free of charge, given half a chance. Then the final chemical onslaught was the application of artificial lawn feed. The result, a very green, very neat lawn that was an ecological wasteland.

Clover growing along the untreated fence line

Thankfully since then we’ve adopted a more relaxed approach to our gardens, generally preferring an informal look and being much more mindful of the wildlife that shares our space. But, despite that we often still expect that public spaces such as parks and roadside verges, should be kept looking neat and tidy. And more often than not, the way that’s achieved is through the use of pesticides, including the most widely used herbicide, Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate.

Clearly there are strongly opposing views about this substance. The manufacturers, Bayer, who obviously have a huge vested interest, maintain that glyphosate is safe, effective and doesn’t persist in the environment. Others strongly disagree and on the basis of independent research, a number of countries have taken steps to either ban or seriously restrict its use. And certain authorities in the UK are starting to question the use of glyphosate on grounds of its safety and its environmental impact and are implementing similar measures.

Recognising these concerns, SCC is working to try and reduce its reliance on Roundup and look for alternative methods of weed control where necessary. So we decided, in agreement with the council that we would run a trial to leave a section of grass that would normally be sprayed, to ‘go wild’. In environmental terms this has a number of benefits, which if rolled out across the park would be greatly amplified. That strip of grass would allow a highway for insects, a food source for birds and maybe even a safe refuge for creatures like hedgehogs.

A ladybird feeding on blackfly in the untreated area

The deal at the moment is that the Friends gardening group will cut the grass down in the autumn but committing to do the whole fence line might be a bit too ambitious for us. So perhaps next year, if people get used to the slightly unkempt, casual look, we could actually try leaving the long grass to overwinter with a view to extending its reach further around the park……….I know the bugs and beetles would be grateful and thank us if they could!!

For more information, check out Pesticides Action Network UK.

Please share your thoughts on this issue by posting comments on our Facebook page. It’s your park and we’d be interested to hear your views.


Click any photo to enlarge
Article by Denise Long
Photos by Bruce Larner




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Friends of Portswood Rec, Southampton, UK





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