Pesticides – yes or no?

We welcome the debate on the use of pesticides on the island, in particular glyphosate, and are supportive of both the expertise in HSE and the alternatives used by States Works.

Health issues

Some people have suggested Guernsey follows the example of the USA. It’s clear that the USA has a liberal attitude to all sorts of things, from gun ownership to pesticide use. While its environmental protection authority does approve glyphosate, there are thousands of court cases in the USA where previous users have established a link with the use of Roundup and cancer and have been awarded $millions in damages. Perhaps a better example is the EU which says glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen” and is reviewing its future use. Its general use has been banned or dropped in many places around the world including France, Belgium, much of Canada, Bath, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Guildford, and Reading to name but a few.

Safety tests

You might ask hasn’t glyphosate been tested before being sold? And the answer is similar to the situation with DDT and all other pesticides- it was tested in the lab, and for its overall toxicity, but not in every situation in which it’s used. It takes time for all the effects of any pesticide to be uncovered, and that is certainly true of glyphosate. Aside from the public health issues, it has been directly shown to harm many of our vital pollinating insects. These “sub-lethal” effects have very recently been shown again in bumblebees, where exposure to glyphosate affects the ability of the bees to manage temperatures in the nest. The evidence around these effects continues to build and the volume of beneficial insects in Europe and UK declines. And remember, if we lose our pollinators, we lose our wild flowers, and much of our food, never mind our gardens.

Alternatives

There are plenty of alternatives, from the mechanical means (hoes, strimming, pulling, cutting, mowing), to leaving the plants flower and appreciating their beauty, to organic chemicals. It is possible to be pesticide-free and still keep our formal areas formal, but take a natural approach and support wildflowers wherever they grow.

What about other pesticides?

Supporting nature is definitely the Guernsey way, so perhaps the question we should be asking is “should we allow glyphosate or any other pesticides to be used at all?” The answer in France is no, they have banned pesticides for cosmetic purposes, for domestic use and in sensitive areas including public parks, gardens, and playgrounds. We are in Guernsey, in many ways even more vulnerable to contamination by pesticides, as our drinking water comes from rainfall and the recent ban by HSE seeks to address this.

Glyphosate is going

Roundup container on grass

Glyphosate is going, going, gone.   

The Pollinator Project is truly delighted that weed killers containing glyphosate are being phased out in 2022 and will be banned from general use in Guernsey from the start of 2023.  

This is such a great first step towards going fully pesticide-free and is a necessary step to protect our fragile wildlife and our sources of locally grown food. Lots of other UK councils have done this as well as whole nations like France and Luxembourg so we’re very glad Guernsey has reacted like this to the latest news on contamination of water courses.    

So what do I need to know?  

Under the Poisonous Substances (Guernsey) Law, the States of Guernsey’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is introducing a restriction preventing these 152 products being sold, stored or used.  

From 31 October you won’t be able to buy glyphosate in Guernsey (or online for shipping to Guernsey).  

From 1 Jan 2023 you will not be able to use or store products containing glyphosate.  

We encourage you to dispose of your products at Longue Hougue recycling centre.  

Professional pesticide users are encouraged by the States of Guernsey to limit their use and explore alternative control methods.  Professional use of glyphosate can only be done by those holding an NPTC certificate of competence.  

Why is this happening? 

Earlier this year Guernsey Water appealed to Islanders not to use glyphosate products after they saw multiple high readings of glyphosate in water courses, which the States says are increasingly linked to domestic use of glyphosate. Many people including the Pollinator Project are also concerned with the impact of glyphosate products on the Island’s biodiversity.  

Robin Gonard, Chief Health & Safety Officer, said: “We do believe it will help improve water quality and protect our biodiversity.” 

What’s the next step in going Pesticide Free?   

We also think there is a need for greater transparency of what volume and frequency of glyphosate products are sold to professionals – and where these are used. We’d also like to see a register of professionally qualified people firmed up so that it is refreshed annually with up-to-date controls of incoming and outgoing contractors too.  

Aside from glyphosate, there are many more products sold and used that harm the environment for the sake of looks. So our aim is to work with government, corporates and land owners to be the first island in Britain to be pesticide-free. We do have a caveat for regulated uses by licensed professionals such as on Japanese knotweed or Asian Hornets but there is little to no need for the other pesticides like chemical insecticides and synthetic slug pellets when there are natural methods available.   We are asking people to stop using all pesticides.    

So what do I use instead? What are the alternatives?  

We would not recommend using most of the branded ‘glyphosate-free’ weedkilling products like Roundup that are on sale in some garden centres as you may just be replacing one problem with another. They often contain synthetic manmade chemicals – which are not naturally in the environment. There’s no requirement for all the ingredients to be listed. There’s very little practical experience of what they do to the environment, and some appear to be not much more than a bottle of chemicals with a marketing label on. And more scientifically-speaking, research by University College Dublin has shown that these new ‘co-formulants” also harm bees. Organic liquids like a mix of white vinegar with a bit of salt work well on grass and broadleaved plants – as does a hoe, a rake, or the new weed burners too.

Or best of all leaving plants to flower and appreciating their beauty and their role in a healthy ecosystem.   

States of Guernsey government questions pesticide use

dandelions with pesticide sign

The States of Guernsey Assembly recently brought up pesticides in their debate,

Deputy Al Brouard, President of Health and Social Services was the first to raise a question:

“There are concerns about the use of pesticides locally and weedkillers etc…could the Committee just consider publishing a list of alternatives for farmers and households? I think I’ve heard things like boiling water, vinegar, obviously manual extraction, natural mulches, but I think it would be helpful, I know Guernsey Water put out their concerns, but it would be helpful to have the other side of the coin, is what we can do instead that would help householders.”

The response from Deputy Lindsay De Sausmarez, President of Environment and Infrastructure committee gave a good overview of where Guernsey is currently at:

“Yes, absolutely, we are working with the Pollinator Project and Guernsey Water on exactly that and Deputy Brouard has just saved my voice a little bit because he has listed some really great alternatives and the ones I would have used. And we are walking the walk in that respect, States Works have barely used any glyphosate, certainly since 2020. There are occasions where there really aren’t workable alternatives or not pragmatic ones, for example in the control of noxious weeds such as Japanese Knotweed and the treatment of Asian Hornets is another area where we have to use chemicals but that’s very, very carefully controlled. We have taken various steps in terms internally but we are working with the Pollinator Project in particular and a big part of that includes a communications plan which we are working with them hand-in-hand on to get those very important messages out into the public domain. Its not just about alternative products, it’s also about alternative management techniques.

Recategorising weeds into wild flowers is one of my favourite methods, that can be done and it is a reasonable approach.

ITV’s Louisa Britton reports on Guernsey’s strategy for nature fund

Guernsey has stunning scenery and a huge array of wildlife. But its rich natural habitats need protecting and nurturing. Now, a total of £40,000 of States funding is up for grabs for local projects that want to achieve just that.

Julia Henney: ‘We’re so fortunate. We have a really unique and rich natural history around us. We have species that can’t be found anywhere else. Beautiful landscapes. It’s a wonderful to be able to undertake these projects, but wildlife really does need our support because there are a lot of pressures and threats affecting it. We’re aware of the pressures on our environment and we’re also aware that we need to help. A lot of people really want to help, but sometimes it’s just about showing people how they can intervene and make that change.’

The Pollinator Project, which created a pollinator patch at Candie Gardens, is one of the local organisations that previously received the funding and since then they’ve gone from strength to strength, helping Islanders celebrate Guernsey’s rich flora and fauna.

Gordon Steele: [There’s a] huge amount to be done. … We talk a lot but we have got to take action. The Strategy for Nature really needs funding to support it, not just from government. It’s not something that government just delivers. It’s something we all need to participate in. And the theme of connecting with nature, caring for nature, engaging people with nature is absolutely vital’.

And the work undertaken to support Guernsey’s bees and butterflies is benefiting the island and its residents more widely.

‘Three quarters of all the food that we eat needs pollination and our pollinators are dying out around the world. Guernsey is no exception to that. We’re losing the insects that we rely on. Without them, we won’t have strawberries, raspberries, coffee, chocolate, plums, apples, pears, all the things that we really enjoy.’

Those behind Guernsey’s nature strategy say the timing is apt as the damaging effects of global warming are at the forefront of people’s minds.

Julia Henney: ‘All the research says that we are going to be faced with quite some quite severe impacts of climate change and that won’t just affect us. It will also affect our natural environment and we need a resilient environment to be able to handle that. But also our environment can be one of the tools in our arsenal to try and reduce the impacts of climate change through things like nature based solutions applications.

Applications (for the fund) are now open with the hope that new projects could help boost biodiversity and restore resilience.

To view the report, click here