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Extinction Rebellion Dundee started this petition to Dundee City Council


In 2019 Dundee City Council (DCC) declared a climate emergency and released their Biodiversity Action plan. This plan makes commitments to monitor and reduce toxic herbicide use in the city – an issue which local campaigners have been raising here and around the world for some time.These commitments however are yet to come to fruition and despite knowing the dangers DCC continues to put the people of Dundee and our precious fragile environment in harms way. 

DCC, having shown little desire to change, paying lip service to their climate, ecological and wellbeing commitments have left us no option but to demand urgent change now to reduce the harmful amounts of toxic herbicides sprayed around the city. 

A freedom of information request by The Ferret revealed that over the past three years DCC has increased it use of the toxic herbicide glyphosate. In 2019 they applied a whopping 2,416 litres of concentrated glyphosate over not some but all 750 of the city’s maintained grounds. While less than that used in 2018 (3,045 litres), this amount is still significantly more than was used in 2017 (2,235 litres). The cost and quantities become a lot bigger when looking at unconcentrated amounts and overall costs. For example it was revealed in another information request by EcoDundee that the cost to apply the diluted 35,000ltrs of glyphosate in 2016/17 was approximately £95,000!

What are the dangers?

Glyphosate has been found in water, wine and beer, and testing has revealed that it is present in people’s urine in Europe and in breast milk in the United States. At low concentrations, it damages liver, kidney and skin cells and its long-term effects include cancer, infertility, pregnancy problems, birth defects and respiratory diseases. In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as 'probably carcinogenic to humans'. In a number of high-profile court cases in the United States, the ex-producer of glyphosate, Monsanto, has been found liable for causing cancer in users of its Roundup herbicide, the same brand used by DCC. More recently chemical firm Bayer who bought over Roundup has had to pay £8.8bn to settle cancer claims linked to the weedkiller. The glyphosate-based product has been subject to about 125,000 lawsuits over its allegedly carcinogenic effect. Not only are the people of Dundee at significant risk of exposure or ingestion via waterways but more so are the DCC workers employed to spray the chemicals, which is why most unions have now called for bans. 

Glyphosate also has devastating effects on the environment. It indirectly impacts birds and other animals by destroying their habitats and food supplies. It disrupts the aquatic food chain, degrades soil fertility, has caused an upsurge in crop diseases and deficiencies in plants, and has been found to have adverse effects on earthworms, insects and bees. For these reasons, European Union MEPs are leaning towards an all-out glyphosate ban in 2022. In a 2016 poll of the five largest EU countries, over 66 per cent of respondents favoured a glyphosate ban, with bans already implemented in France, Italy and other countries around the world. It makes sense therefore for DCC to begin reducing its excessive use now, rather than later, and to research and invest in sustainable alternatives as, in fact, many local authorities across the UK are doing already.

The Context:

To date, 40 UK local authorities have banned glyphosate use altogether or in part. In Scotland nine councils have promised limited reductions, with Edinburgh, Falkirk, Highland and Midlothian councils saying they were actively cutting back. The research done by these councils into alternatives could be utilized by Dundee who have done little in the way of research. It is more than disappointing that DCC does not feature among these forward-looking councils. Dundee, its people and nature all deserve to have DCC serve their interests better by living up to its commitments and showing real application to the environmental challenges we face.

The same year the council declared a climate emergency Dundee residents voiced concerns over the links between excessive use of Roundup by DCC when several liver-related problems had been reported in animals, probably caused by ingesting this poisonous substance. In relation to the concerns for animal health, a council worker stated: “They have actually had us going round on quad bikes spraying the stuff . . . they are overstepping the line with how much they are using it. With the exception of the Waterfront, it is being used all over the city.” In response to the incident, a spokesperson for DCC stated: 'Current government advice describes glyphosate as an important chemical for use in environmental operations and it is approved for use in the UK until 2022 . . . We have no plans to remove our current herbicide maintenance regime but shall continue to research alternatives and follow government guidance.' What a disappointingly non-committal statement in view of the controversy over the serious dangers posed by these chemicals which has been ongoing now for at least 60 years and where exactly is this promise of research?

It is not difficult therefore to accuse DCC of disingenuous mixed messaging on these matters. Dundee’s Biodiversity Action Plan certainly recognises the issues however and makes explicit commitments to a reduction of both herbicide use and mowing. The report states that unsympathetic and over-management of ecosystems are 'historic [sic] and known threats' to the environment, which include, along with climate change, pollution and others, 'the over-management of urban areas with herbicide use and grass mowing'. It expresses a desire 'to promote sympathetic management to improve the health of Dundee’s ecosystems and ensure key sites are managed to a high standard for biodiversity' and states the aim to publish a further report this year on the specific matter of herbicides, with recommendations being implemented from 2021 onwards. The plan equally commits to finding 'a balance between providing for biodiversity and providing public amenity for all users within the city' by monitoring changes in the grass cutting and spraying regime via feedback and citizen science surveys.

The fact that herbicides are sprayed twice a year in every single location that DCC maintains – including road channels, children’s play areas, residential streets, the city center and areas where the risk of run-off and water contamination is extremely high – is unwarranted and when considered against the stated aims of the Biodiversity Action Plan amounts to no less than unnecessary madness. Of equally significant concern is the information that herbicides are being applied on the banks of the Dighty Burn (where water contamination Is unavoidable) and around trees, which not only harms the trees but equally kills soil biota and leads to problematic erosion, such as that commonly seen around headstones. DCC is patently failing on its own commitments to avoid the dangers of over-management, behaving instead as if over-management were in fact its preferred strategy.

It is uplifting to see initiatives such as the ongoing annual giant hogweed control day – a fantastic example of how communities can come together to find more sustainable alternatives. However, more community initiatives and education are evidently required in this area. We want to see DCC invest in a genuinely sustainable, liveable future in which we seek to protect all life now.  As we ease out of lockdown it is the perfect time to start. In fact, now is not the perfect time but the only time we have left – species have decreased in abundance by 49 per cent in Scotland and the UK stands to lose one in four species to extinction if it continues on its current trajectory. One in four! These are terrifying facts that point to the gravity and urgency of these issues. In the current scenario, we are all at serious risk of greatly increased incidence of disease. Leading scientists have affirmed that it is almost always destructive human behaviour towards the environment that causes unknown diseases to transmit from animals to humans, and the covid-19 crisis is widely acknowledged as a symptom of this environmental destruction. Will DCC be complicit in this destruction?

We demand that DCC be transparent, honest and steadfast in its environmental commitments, because the people and nature of Dundee deserve a council that prioritises care and protects life, both now and for the future. Time is running out, 2020 is the year where drastic change must happen or we risk missing the point where we can avoid uncontrollable climate and ecological breakdown, with disastrous consequences for people and for all life on Earth.


Stand with us to demand that DCC significantly reduce its toxic herbicide use NOW


Extinction Rebellion Dundee

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