The case for Integrated Weed Management

Organisations in the UK need to start adopting an integrated approach to weed control soon, or they are likely to be forced to by legislation.

 · 5 min read

Integrated Weed Management

An Integrated Weed Management strategy is a common-sense approach to preventing weeds, followed by measures to control remaining weed growth using environmentally friendly methods, which are properly understood to cause least harm to ecology.

Businesses and councils need to take responsibility for a more sustainable approach to weed management and putting an integrated weed management strategy in place is a good first step. The UK government is keen on this movement, so legislation is likely to follow if inaction continues in the sector. 

Integrated weed management is a strategy which has to become a culture - it needs embracing by multiple departments in councils for it to be as successful as possible. As such, it requires someone to lead the cause within an organisation. Who in your company or council could be the integrated weed management champion to really drive through the change across departments? 

Why we need Integrated Weed Management

Every year, a lot of pesticides are used in public streets, parks, playgrounds and open spaces. There are over 30 different types of pesticides currently used in the UK, presenting possible risks in areas that the public use regularly. Many pesticides have been linked with ill health by the World Health Organisation, including cancer and birth defects amongst other linked illnesses. Furthermore, we are using these chemicals directly on our habitats of wildlife in addition to the risk of contaminating natural resources such as our water supply. 

Thankfully though, the use of these pesticides is no longer required, with safer alternatives readily available. All of the towns and cities in both France and Belgium are now pesticide-free, so we can to be too! 

Pesticides, by their design, are supposed to be toxic to a targeted audience, be that weeds, insects or fungus. However, due to the toxic properties, they are also risks to unintended audiences, such as bees and even humans! These pesticides are used in towns, cities, homes, gardens and significantly in agriculture. We are therefore exposed to pesticides in the food that we eat, and in the public spaces we enjoy. 

Herbicides (weedkillers) account for 98.8% of the total pesticides used in the UK, with glyphosate (the most widely used weedkiller) making up more than 75% on its own. The main use of pesticides in amenity settings is to make places look tidy and address growth of unwanted weeds. 

Children and Pesticides

Children are at higher risk from pesticides due to a few factors:

  1. Their behaviour – children like to crawl and play in areas that are treated with pesticides, such as parks and playgrounds. 
  2. Children absorb pesticides more easily through their skin. Infants can typically absorb three times more pesticides than adults from similar exposure. 
  3. They take in more air, food and water relative to their body weight compared to adults, which increases their total exposure. 

Not only is their exposure higher, but their physiological development isn’t as strong as adults, so their body’s defences are not as strong to defend against possible risks. 

The cocktail effect

One of the most significant health concerns with regards to the use of pesticides, is the cocktail effect. This refers to the use of multiple pesticides and how they chemically react with one another. There is limited knowledge into exactly what impact the low-level exposure that we are constantly exposed to everyday is having on our health. The research and legislation is currently focused on the safety of individual chemicals, so with the cocktail effect, we are effectively being experimented on. 

Possible environmental impact of pesticides

Bees and other pollinators are in serious decline, and this has been linked to the use of pesticides. 40% of insect species are declining, and a third are endangered. In the UK, we have seen a 50% decrease in farmland bird species since the 1970s; a 97% decrease in hedgehogs since the 1950s; and 95% of our wildflower meadows have been lost. 

Nature may be able to manage with small amounts of pesticides in the environment but we appear to have replaced many maintenance  tasks like sweeping and edging with ever increasing amounts of pesticide applications.  Furthermore, pesticides are highly persistent meaning their toxic substances may remain in the environment in which they are applied for a long time. When pesticides are used on hard surfaces such as paths and roads, they tend to run off when it rains which may contaminate our water courses such as rivers, lakes and ponds. This therefore may harm our aquatic wildlife too. Not only water courses, but our water sources may also be contaminated, with it being reported that water companies spend in excess of £30 million per year removing potentially toxic chemicals from our water supply. That in turn, increases our water bills. 

Alternatives and methods to reduce pesticides

There are Thermal processes such as flame, foam or hot water treatments. Manual methods such as hand weeding, hoeing, mulching, and mechanical approaches such as steel brushing and sweeping are all effective methods to manage weeds in different situations. It is important to understand how different combinations of preventative and remedial approaches work together to be most efficient and successful. Prevention through removing detritus on hard surfaces using sweeping is a key ingredient to ensuring less weeds in the first place. This means less methods are required to remove weeds later. Implementing this alone would significantly reduce the use of pesticides. 

Furthermore, the public’s attitudes to open spaces could be educated. Choosing the correct planting schemes for certain areas, whether it is wild flowers, grass, ground cover plants, or perhaps even letting weeds grow in areas could greatly reduce the amount of pesticides that are needed to maintain our open spaces.

You can read more about Weed Prevention and alternatives here

Get involved

The movement towards an integrated approach is gaining momentum, with people up and down the country starting to call upon their council to shift away from pesticides. Towns and cities are gradually reducing their use of pesticides, with some councils removing it altogether. You can take action by contacting your local councillors and telling them of the dangers of pesticides that you have found out about in this blog. 

Find out more at   

We would like to help any business, council or anyone else who is keen on implementing an integrated weed management strategy. We can help you construct an affordable, common-sense approach to preventing weeds followed by measures to control remaining weed growth using environmentally friendly methods which cause least harm to ecologies. 

Get in touch today on 0118 986 9253 or via our website

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