Hackney eliminates glyphosate-based weed killer in green public spaces

Hackney launched a campaign to rebuild a ‘greener Hackney’. Pic: Clotilde Nogues

By Clotilde Nogues and Aisha Payne

Two hundred green areas around Hackney are going glyphosate-free in 2021 in an effort to boost biodiversity across the borough, the council announced this week. 

The use of weed killers containing glyphosate on shrub beds, rosebeds and hedges will stop for an initial twelve months. Additional wildflower meadows will also be planted to encourage green spaces to flourish without herbicides, and the use of leaves and tree mulch will be increased as a natural alternative to killing weeds. 

The move was welcomed by the local branch of Extinction Rebellion: “It is known to harm ecosystems and pollinators, as well as human health, yet is widely used in public places like parks and playgrounds, on streets and near schools across London and the world.”

What is glyphosate?
Glyphosate is an active ingredient in many of the world’s most commonly used weed killers. Much debate exists around its use and the negative effects it has on our environment and biodiversity. 
Studies have shown that it may actually be contributing to the global decline of bees, as it damages their gut bacteria and makes them more prone to infection.  There are also concerns surrounding its impact on human health, including cancerous tumours and birth defects.

XR protest led to move

Over 200 estate-based green spaces are managed by the council, and the new rulw will have an impact on Hackney’s green infrastructure.   

Hackney council had previously made several efforts to reduce the use of glyphosate. Last year, following an XR anti-glyphosate protest on the steps of Hackney Town Hall, the Council tried a glyphosate-free area in Homerton. They hoped the trial would demonstrate “how high standards of street maintenance can continue without the use of herbicide.” 

The success of the protest and subsequent trial resulted in this week’s announcement. In a statement, councillor John Burke, Hackney cabinet member for energy, waste and transport said: “I’m delighted to be able to honour the commitment I made to [the protestors] by taking this next step.” 

Estate in Hackney. Pic: Clotilde Nogues

Lara Bowen of XR Hackney Families, who helped to organise the protest, said: “When someone in power credits peaceful protest with a shift in policy, it is a reminder to us all that grassroots action is making a difference.”

Sarah Bentley, a member of XR and an active campaigner against the use of herbicides, told ELL: “This is excellent news and a real win for both people and planet.”

“Although it’s taken years to get this decision we’re happy that the council have finally caught up with the facts that spraying public spaces with toxic chemicals that are bad for the environment & biodiversity…is not only unnecessary – it’s harmful.”

Ella Brolly, 26, from Hackney, who grows some of her own food organically said: “I think that Hackney’s move is incredible news. It’s a massive step in the right direction. Glyphosate is something that a lot of organic growers are striving to eliminate from all of our growing practices because of the amount of damage that it does to the biosphere and local ecosystems.

Brolly also said she, along with many others, will now feel safer in Hackney’s green spaces, and she will feel safe when growing food. “I was scared knowing that lots of public areas are full of glyphosate. I didn’t like the idea of children being in these parks, or anybody basically.”

”It’s also something that I think about when growing… often I would like to collect leaves from the park, to… make them into leaves mold and use them in a couple of years in my own garden… this is not something I could do because I would be aware that the parks are covered in glyphosate and therefore the leaves I would collect would also be covered by glyphosate.” 

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