Skip To Main Content

Cambridge City Council

Cambridge herbicide free ward trial extended

24 March 2023

CAMBRIDGE City Council has agreed to extend the current herbicide free ward trial in Newnham and Arbury to include West Chesterton and Trumpington from this year.

Councillors agreed to expand the trial area at yesterday’s Environment and Community Scrutiny Committee, and to continue the development of the Happy Bee Street Scheme.

In the four trial wards, the council will use mechanical sweeping and hand tools, such as hoes and spades, in place of herbicide, to manage unwanted vegetation growing in streets and open spaces and in communal areas associated with its council housing estates.

Vegetation growth in the four wards will be monitored and targeted maintenance action will be taken to tackle unwanted vegetation that can damage buildings, walls, footpaths and roads; create accessibility problems; and lead to health and safety risks, such as slips, trips and falls.

The herbicide free trial forms part of the council’s Herbicide Reduction Plan, which was adopted in 2022 to take forward the council’s Herbicide Motion. The motion was passed in July 2021. The Herbicide Motion included a commitment to reduce and remove the need to use herbicides across the city, with the view to phasing out herbicide usage. Alongside the four ward herbicide free trial, the associated Happy Bee Street community engagement scheme also forms part of the plan.

The council launched the Happy Bee Street scheme last year. The scheme is a community engagement programme, in which the council supports residents to manage vegetation growing in their own and in neighbouring streets. The scheme is a great way for residents to come together as a community and help manage vegetation growing on roadside kerbs and pavements for the benefit of neighbourhood biodiversity.

The council also stopped using herbicides in playgrounds and parks and other open spaces that it manages in 2019.

A herbicide reduction working group, which includes the council, Pesticide-Free Cambridge and Cambridgeshire County Council was started in May 2022 to support the move towards herbicide free methods. Last year the council made a commitment to stop herbicide spraying during school commuting times, and to no longer spray on grassy verges or around tree bases.

A decision was taken by the Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways and Transport Committee to stop chemical weed killing on the county road network and move to a priority-based non-chemical means of weed removal with the exception of invasive weeds such as Japanese Knotweed. As the county highway’s grounds maintenance ‘contractor’ for Cambridge, Cambridge City Council will adopt this new approach and will not be using herbicides on the city’s adopted roads, pavements and cycleways with immediate effect.

It is widely recognised that the use of herbicides damages the surrounding environment, posing a threat to animals, harming or killing invertebrates, which are vitally important to soil health, water quality and the ecosystem generally. If sprayed incorrectly, herbicides can also harm the near by plants which play an equally significant role in the environment.

Cllr Alex Collis, Executive Councillor for Open Spaces, Food Justice, and Community Development said: “We are pleased to be continuing with the trial and expanding it to West Chesterton and Trumpington. Expanding the trial highlights our commitment to moving towards a herbicide free Cambridge in a way that works best for the whole city.

“Maintaining our streets and open spaces should not have to come at the cost of harming the environment. We hope that this trial continues to show that it is possible to implement other methods of managing unwanted vegetation in our streets and open spaces. This is for the benefit of both people, in terms of their accessibility and safety; and wildlife, including bees and other pollinators.

“The use of non-chemical weed control helps us to work towards our clear commitment to a pesticide free Cambridge. This contributes to our overall aim of improving biodiversity in the city.”

Julia Shaw and Ben Greig, of Pesticide-Free Cambridge, said: “It’s good news that the herbicide free trials are being expanded from two to four wards, alongside a general reduction of spraying schedules that has arisen in part from the County Council’s decision to stop using herbicide to control vegetation growth on the county public highway network.

“Naturally, we would prefer an immediate, hard-stop of council herbicide spraying across the city, but we look forward to continuing to work with and supporting the council to achieve our common goal of a pesticide free Cambridge, whilst also working with other stakeholders to tackle broader pesticide use in the interests of biodiversity, public health and disability rights, and in ways that complement Cambridge City Council’s herbicide free trials and street adoption schemes.”

To report overgrown vegetation on the city’s roads, streets, footways and cycleways, please report it to Cambridgeshire County Council.