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Agenda Item No. 4

 

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (HOUSING AND PUBLIC PROTECTION): 13TH APRIL, 2016

 

REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (ECONOMY AND ENVIRONMENT): 8TH MARCH, 2016

 

 

“913    INTEGRATED WEED / PEST CONTROL (DEH) –

 

Councillor R.F. Curtis, not a Member of the Committee, had requested that the matter be considered and asked the question

 

“Should the Vale of Glamorgan Council adopt a policy of “Integrated weed / pest control” as advocated by the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE)?”.

 

“Many scientists and ecologists are coming to the view that the reliance upon chemical methods of weed control is unsustainable and recognises the growing evidence that points towards the increased use of herbicide and pesticide is damaging to the environment.

 

Traditionally, local government have chosen herbicides and pesticides to control weeds and insects, but ever since the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring”, people have become increasingly aware of the potential damaging effect of introducing chemicals into ecosystems.

 

More recently, there have been health concerns about the most commonly used weed killer in the world, glyphosate, when the well-respected International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that glyphosate probably could cause cancer in humans.

 

I am aware that affordability will be an issue particularly as the Council struggles to meet budgetary savings, but equally the Council has a legal and moral duty to reduce impacts which may cause adverse effects to both human health and the environment.

 

Please refer for evidence to APSE briefing 15-33 “The need for integrated weed control”.

 

I would like to invite a representative of Friends of the Earth Cymru and / or and representative from APSE (via video link) to give evidence on the policy.”

 

In presenting his request, Councillor Curtis also tabled information from a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) report entitled “Where have all the birds gone?” and information on chemical free pest control.  He commenced by advising that over 60% of the wildlife had been lost in the last 50 years and he urged the Council to enhance biodiversity and to make it an integral part of its decision-making process.  Councillor Curtis then took the opportunity to thank the officers for the report that had been produced for the Committee and to the Chairman for the opportunity afforded to him to present his request and the video evidence to be given by Mr. Wayne Priestley, APSE Principal Advisor, regarding an APSE briefing paper 15-33 “The need for integrated weed control”. 

 

Mr. Priestley then proceeded to provide via a video conferencing facility from his main office base in Manchester, his evidence to the Committee.  Mr. Priestley stated that APSE provided advice and assistance across the whole of the country and that his area of specialism was the environment and referred to concerns that had been raised in relation to the chemical glyphosate.  The need for different approaches to weed control had recently been heightened by a report which stated the most commonly used weed killer in the world, glyphosate, may cause cancer.  Accounting for over a third of all herbicide sales and most commonly used in the product Roundup, glyphosate had been classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in a report by the well-respected International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).  A copy of the APSE briefing 15-33 was contained within the agenda.  He stated that APSE shared the view that the reliance upon chemical methods of weed control was unsustainable and recognised the growing evidence that pointed towards the increased use of herbicide and pesticide was damaging to the environment.  Although APSE did equally recognise that in a time of austerity, introducing a new method of working which had the potential to cost more initially may be difficult to introduce by Local Authorities and other organisations.  However, with careful planning and implementation, long term savings and reduced negative impacts on human health and the environment could be achieved.  He was aware that more and more Local Authorities were looking at a variety of weed control methods to address the problems in their areas.  Integrated weed management (IWM) uses several techniques to control weeds, thereby reducing the chance that the weed species would adapt to the control techniques which was likely if only one technique was used and at the same reduce health and environmental impacts. 

 

Aware that it would be impossible to ban all chemical usage as there was a need for some, his view was that a more targeted approach was required.  Reducing the amount of chemicals and looking at providing less and more sustainable use of pesticides was imperative as no one knew the long term effects of glyphosate.  Mr. Priestley stated that there were a number of different methods of weed control, the most frequently used being physical control, biological control and chemical control.  Despite there being no legal requirement to use less pesticides, the UK had to comply with Sustainable Use and Water Framework Directives laid down by the EU.  The Government’s preferred approach was to persuade and encourage the adoption of an integrated approach so that the nation cuts its overall use of pesticides, the environment is preserved and the EU does not move to more stringent measures.  The guidance advised the adoption of a four stage approach:

  • Planning
  • Determine appropriate treatment
  • Contract procurement and implementation
  • Review progress.

There also had to be cultural control, it being noted that although weeds may not be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, they were not a danger.  It was also accepted that the key to the access of adopting integrated weed control programmes was obviously the availability of financial resources, which had already been widely adopted across Europe.  Of note was the need for all departments to talk to each other and for the plan to be integrated within all service departments for a co-ordinated plan to be adopted. In various places a red, green, amber management system had been adopted. It was however important that the Council considered public health and wellbeing aspects when considering a management plan. 

 

Mr. Priestley further advised that in Barcelona (Spain) a total ban on the use of glyphosate had been made, with the city looking to a more ecological approach with natural predators getting rid of the weeds on a natural basis.  It was also important to keep the public informed and to advise of the various methods that could be used.  Although aware that the European Union legislation would eventually drive Councils down the route of integrated weed monitoring plans, it was still a moral and ethical issue for Councils. Paragraph 5 of the APSE briefing document produced stated that APSE was aware that affordability would be an issue, particularly as Local Authorities struggled to meet budgetary savings, but equally Local Authorities had a legal and moral responsibility to reduce impacts which may cause adverse effects to human health and the environment.  Also of note was the fact that with developing technology and proven use across Europe, there was a potential in the medium to long term that the adoption of integrated weed control would produce savings with the reduced chemical use and ultimately would help improve and protect both human health and environmental assets. 

 

The Council’s Parks and Open Space Officer, Adam Sargent, subsequently then provided the Committee with a presentation in relation to the work currently being undertaken within the Department, and in referring to the report within the agenda, advised that the Council’s Parks and Grounds Maintenance Service presently used pesticides to a minimum, but certain situations did arise where pesticide use was the most appropriate option for weed control.  The Vale of Glamorgan Council managed its use of pesticides by following the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products.  The Code reflected a number of laws and set out best practice as outlined below:

           

Food and Environmental Protection Act 1985

Control of Pesticides Regs. 1986 (as amended)

Health and Safety at Work Act (1974)

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002

Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regs. (1992)

This Code reflects the following laws and sets out “Best Practice”:

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

 

The Code also provided clear guidance on training and certification, planning and preparation, working with pesticides, disposing of pesticide waste and record keeping.  The Vale had current and future pesticide objectives which were outlined as below:

  • To stop the use of pesticides - wherever possible
  • To minimise / reduce use of pesticides
  • To use alternative methods - wherever possible
  • To continually assess methods.

Members were informed that the Council did not herbicide spray any lawned open spaces neither did they herbicide spray sport pitch markings with the exception of fine turf and cricket outfields, and did not spray for pests (green fly / black fly). 

 

The Department was currently minimising or reducing the use of pesticides with the aim of utilising an integrated pest management system through legal controls, biological controls, cultural controls, mechanical and physical controls and chemical controls.  Staff were preparing wild flower flower areas and herbaceous borders.  With regard to the use of glyphosate, the Parks Department usage per annum for pesticides was around 150 litres approximately.  Of this, approximately 80 litres were glyphosate based.  Reference was made to the fact that the Vale of Glamorgan Council was approximately 33,500 hectares in size of which approximately 12% was farmed as arable land, which would equate to 4,020 hectares.  Using the same dose rate of three applications per year, for each litre used by Parks, 377 litres were used elsewhere and this did not take into account private use of around 55,000 households. 

 

Further work to minimise and reduce the use of pesticides was undertaken in the Highways Department with the use of the machinery Weed-IT, with a typical chemical reduction of 70% being made.  Alternative methods were used wherever possible, for example mulch shrub beds, improved field husbandry, use of the mechanical sweeper, mechanical methods and independent fine turf analysis.  In order to encourage best practice the Department monitored changes in legislation, attended events such as the Green Project, shared good practice and learning with other Welsh Local Authorities, ensured all staff were trained and competent, discussed with suppliers, read trade magazines and worked with the Amenity Forum. 

 

The Amenity Forum was formed as an independent body to bring together professional organisations with an involvement in the amenity horticultural sector.  It was an industry led project to reduce the environmental impact of pesticides and the Forum was fully recognised as the voice for the sector on matters relating to weeds, pests and disease control in the amenity sector.  45 organisations were direct members representing manufacturers, distributors, contractors, Local Authorities and a range of other bodies.  It promoted and encouraged proper and responsible use of pesticides and integrated methods for the control of pests, weeds and diseases. 

 

The Council also used the Green Dragon Standard Ethos which was based on the ISO14001 European Environmental Standard.  The Green Flag standard was also used. 

 

In conclusion the Parks Officer advised that both the Parks and Grounds Maintenance and Highways Sections believed the current approach to weed and pest control was effective, sustainable and caused minimum interference to the immediate eco systems.  There was however, an acknowledgement that cost was a factor in the present working practices but there were however no plans to change the current operating procedures, but both Departments reassured the Committee that they would continually monitor changes in legislation, biological control advances and would modify methods accordingly.  The Parks and Highways Sections were very aware of sustainability and climate change issues in relation to the use of pesticides.  The current corporate priority was to achieve a quality of the environment through the promotion and use of sustainable practices and by making the best use of current and future resources. 

 

Mr. Wayne Priestley, in response, commended the Authority and the Parks Officer on its current approach to weed and pest control, however he urged the Council to consider enhancing its ways further in order to reduce the use of glyphosate as much as it possibly could. 

 

In response, Councillor R.F. Curtis advised that he was reassured that the Council was adopting a type of integrated weed control system but was also of the opinion that education was key and that further raising of public awareness should be encouraged.  He took the opportunity to ask the Committee to consider requesting Cabinet to adopt the principle of integrated weed control and to also refer a copy of the report to the Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection) for its consideration.  The Cabinet Member for Visible Services and Leisure stated that there were a number of ways that the public could reduce the use of pesticides in managing their own gardens at home.  He too welcomed the work that was being undertaken by the Parks and Highways Departments in limiting the use of chemical products.

 

Members stated that they welcomed the report and congratulated the officer on the work currently being undertaken to date.  They considered that the presentation was most informative and provided the detail on the work that was being undertaken within the Highways and Parks Department in relation to reducing the use of pesticides throughout the Vale.  If it was possible to further reduce, this was something to be considered in the future and that further close working with both Departments should be maintained.  The general management that was ongoing was to be commended but that all opportunities to raise the profile further with regard to the use of glyphosate should be undertaken in order that the Council could be assured that all departments and the public were receiving the same message. 

 

The Chairman in conclusion thanked Mr Priestly for his evidence advising that it was an area that the Committee could monitor on an annual basis.

 

Therefore, having fully considered the report, the evidence provided to the Committee and the discussion that had taken place at the meeting, it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the presentation and report be referred to the Community Liaison Committee and Scrutiny Committee (Housing and Public Protection).

 

(2)       T H A T a report be referred back to the Scrutiny Committee in 12 months’ time updating on any further progress, including details of any other options that could be considered as well as well as to raise awareness.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       To apprise Members.

 

(2)       In order to evaluate future work and cost implications for the Council.”

 

 

 

 

Attached as Appendix – Report to Committee: Date

 

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