Cork City Council to stop using chemical-based weed killers

The council heard that "the alternatives are by far more environmentally friendly in terms of greater biodiversity and pollinator-friendly amenity areas."
Cork City Council to stop using chemical-based weed killers

The policy decision brings to an end a near 50-year practice of using chemical herbicides for the control of unwanted vegetation in amenity areas, including public parks, open space areas, greenways, woodland planting and roadside verges.

Cork City Council has decided to stop using chemical-based glyphosate weed killers in its parks and on some 500km of public roads.

Despite the alternatives being more expensive and less effective, councillors were told they are more environmentally friendly.

The policy decision brings to an end a near 50-year practice of using chemical herbicides for the control of unwanted vegetation in amenity areas, including public parks, open space areas, greenways, woodland planting and roadside verges.

The Irish Examiner reported last September how the council had said it planned to slash its use of chemical-based weed killers in amenity areas by up to 90% this year. But the decision to go further, and to end its use completely in parks, roads and footpaths, was brought to the attention of the full council on Monday night.

David Joyce, the council’s director of services in roads and environment operations, outlined the details of a report he presented to the council’s environment, water and amenity committee just before Christmas, highlighting the council’s trials over the last three years on the use and effectiveness of organic herbicides, as well as on the use and effectiveness of mechanical weed control and mulching.

The trials concluded that the alternatives, which included steam jet application, electric strimmer and organic herbicides, are less effective and more costly, his report said.

“The disadvantage of the alternatives is that the control increases from one operation per year up to four for any one of the alternatives,” he said.

“That said, the alternatives are by far more environmentally friendly in terms of greater biodiversity and pollinator-friendly amenity areas.

“Moving from the present herbicide control method to a mix of the alternatives will have consequences at certain periods during the year due to a shortage of manpower (staff undertaking other tasks) to undertake the labour-intensive alternative methods.

“A certain amount of vegetation/weed growth will remain in areas for periods longer than some people would like, however, it is hoped these periods will reduce as the alternative methods are improved and become more effective."

But he said the control of vegetation around trees will discontinue in many areas, with plans to create wildflower areas around groups of trees that will only require one mowing per year. 

The report also said the council’s roads department has also been conducting trials with their ‘weed control contractors’ using non-glyphosate products on the estimated 500km of the public road network. Last year, around 140km, or 28% of the public road network, was treated with non-glyphosate products. 

However, Mr Joyce said the council, from now on, plans to use non-glyphosate products on the roads. He did however stress that the council must continue to use a herbicide for the control of the invasive Japanese knotweed species.

Green Party Cllr Oliver Moran, welcomed the move and said the decision reflects the position of many councillors and the concerns of residents.

"While these alternatives are more environmentally friendly, they will also require a shift in expectations from the public about how weeds are managed in public spaces," he said. 

"That shift in expectation is part of a wider movement that is recognising the biodiversity emergency we're in and how we respond to it."

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