Make Cambridge pesticide-free

Make Cambridge pesticide-free

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Pesticide-Free Cambridge started this petition to Cambridge City Council

Our Petition
We, Pesticide-Free Cambridge, call on Cambridge City Council to:

  1. Commit to phasing out all synthetic, non-agricultural pesticides - including both herbicides andinsecticides- in all areas that they are responsible for managing, within three years.
  2. Trial non-toxic alternatives to weed management this year (2021) on pathways, roads, pavements and street infrastructure (lampposts, trees, benches etc) that it manages on the behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council, and to establish constructive dialogue with the latter in order to make Cambridge pesticide-free.
  3.  Establish a communications campaign, by the end of 2021 in liaison with partners across the city, including Pesticide-Free Cambridge, to encourage stakeholders, schools, business owners and members of the public to phase out and ultimately end pesticide use in the City of Cambridge.

The Problem

Cambridge City Council recognised the Biodiversity Emergency on 22 May 2019 and pledged to ‘make the Council estate more hospitable to a wide range of plants and animals’ and to ‘work in partnership with institutions, schools, businesses and community groups to raise awareness and encourage wider biodiversity action across the City’.  Its decision in the same year to stop applying glyphosate-based herbicides in the city’s parks, open spaces and children’s playgrounds has had a positive impact on biodiversity and human health. This is a good start on which to build, but there are still significant problems:   
The City Council continues to carry out bi-annual blanket spraying of herbicides on pathways including those in parks where it has stopped spraying, as well as areas that it manages on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council including pavements, street infrastructure, roads and grassy verges, although it has given verbal commitment to stop verge spraying ‘soon’.  Non-council pesticide-use is also a major problem: glyphosate-based herbicides are still used extensively in school playgrounds, throughout the grounds of Cambridge University and its Colleges, as well as of businesses and private homes. This is especially problematic when applied on council-owned streets and pavements or without regard to the potential for pesticide drift.  Additionally, synthetic insecticidesare widely applied in gardens and open spaces as well as inside private homes, commercial buildings, and school classrooms.  These products are more environmentally persistent, toxic and injurious to human health than the glyphosate-based herbicides that have dominated media attention.  Further, private application of insecticides and herbicides on external peripheries of buildings that border municipal land, means that city dwellers, including children, have limited protection against exposure to hazardous chemicals when walking on public pavements or streets, or even attending school.  
Remedial action is urgently needed particularly given the recently proposed Amendment 78 to the UK Agriculture Bill which extends current agricultural spraying regulations that hitherto afforded protection to wildlife but not to human health, to the limitation of crop spraying in close proximity to private and public buildings, including schools. The continued use of the same pesticides within the very areas that such an Amendment seeks to protect, is therefore increasingly illogical.


Glyphosate-based herbicides have attracted much media attention following high-profile legal cases that have highlighted their carcinogenic properties.  However, aside from cancers and acute poisoning risks, additional health impacts include chronic neurological conditions, headaches and cognitive disorders, endocrine disruption and DNA alteration, and autism and learning difficulties in children.[1] Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides partly because their bodies are still developing but also because they spend more time playing on the floor, in the grass, or in school grounds.
Synthetic insecticides used to control insects in both outdoor plant contexts as well as inside environments such as private homes, schools and commercial buildings, form an additional overlooked dimension of non-agricultural pesticide use, and yet are considerably more toxic and environmentally persistent than glyphosates that have dominated recent media attention. Many ‘domestic’ insecticides are normalised by being sold on the cleaning products shelves of supermarkets and DIY stores, despite being implicated in a wide range of long-term neuro-degenerative illnesses, with the ability to metabolise active ingredients varying significantly across the human population according to individual genetic and xenobiotic detoxifying enzyme status.  Many such insecticides contain carbamates, powerful nerve agents used in chemical warfare, which like the notorious organophosphate group, are cholinesterase inhibitors, with hugely variable impacts on human health.[2]
Powder-based insecticides are particularly problematic due to their high volatility and susceptibility to ‘drift’.  Those who have already been injured by pesticides are likely to be more vulnerable to ongoing poor air quality and are also likely to have reduced capacity for metabolising pesticides due to altered DNA and impaired or damaged xenobiotic detoxifying enzymes. Children, the chronically ill, and economically disadvantaged groups are particularly susceptible to the ill effects of pesticides and environmental pollution in general.
Aside from damaging human health, pesticides are key contributors to biodiversity breakdown and reduction in insects such as bees and other pollinators, with a loss of 80% in insect biomass over the last 30 years.[3] This is a major factor in ecosystem collapse which threatens the crops we grow, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Insecticide-use in gardens is also contributing to birds and mammal population reduction, with starlings and hedgehogs now becoming endangered species in the UK due largely to the loss of their main food source - invertebrates.  Many of the ‘weeds’ that herbicides treat are simply flowers providing much-needed food for insects. Wild grasses and flowers have been shown to impact also on human health and wellbeing,[4] while Cambridge City Council and others have demonstrated that planting wildflower meadows can boost biodiversity in an urban setting.[5] But without tackling the pesticide problem we cannot hope to address fully the entwined biodiversity and public health challenges that face us either a local or global level.
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