by Hannah Conway (Campaigner, PAN UK)
On a frosty morning I met campaigners in their home in Balerno, a beautiful suburb on the outskirts of Edinburgh. We all piled onto the bus on our way to Edinburgh City Council to present our deputation to the Transport and Environment committee for a pesticide-free Balerno.
Pesticide-Free Balerno was accompanied by local schoolchildren and environmentalists who had taken a day off studies to do this, and practising their speaking notes from the back of the bus the children took it in turns…
Marc: “We don’t want glyphosate where we walk, run and cycle to school. There’s also many people that have little brothers or sisters who are baby toddlers that are learning to walk on the pavements”
Ben: “We already have climate change and pesticides, at least we can stop one of them”
James: “I want a pesticide-free Balerno because I want to protect biodiversity. Insects are important for us all and our birds and hedgehogs too”
Felix: “Even when glyphosate is only applied on the hard surfaces it still can be stood on by our dogs, cats and insects. Safe alternatives like hot foam or manual weeding does not hurt humans or pets”
Needless to say, the group astounded the committee. Due to the outstanding Pesticide-Free Balerno campaign and the mass of public support they raised the council have agreed to abstain from all weed control in 2020 in Balerno, and to trial the Foamstream machine in 2021. This is a huge step for Balerno and for Edinburgh as a whole.
So how did they get there?
Edinburgh City Council have been actively reducing the use of herbicides since 2017, but still routinely applying it on the streets and pavements where residents live. In the rest of the city, for the foreseeable future, they plan to continue its use.
The grassroots campaign in Balerno didn’t really kick off until 2018 when campaigners decided to tackle this issue. Since then, support for a ban on herbicides has grown exponentially.
It wasn’t easy at first, with Balerno being one of the areas of Edinburgh with the most complaints about ‘weeds’. But slowly, over time Pesticide-Free Balerno campaigners managed to win hearts and minds. They started with a petition, which they took to community events such as monthly farmers markets and the local scout meetings. They chatted and raised awareness to everyone they bumped into.
Everywhere they went, they took photos of members of the community holding ‘Pesticide-Free’ signs, bags and badges to show the world that the people of Balerno support the cause. Campaigners were strategic about their audience. With parents, they informed them about the potential health impact that pesticides can have on children. With dog walkers, they talked about the nearby area of Dalkeith where councillors had implemented a moratorium on glyphosate (a popular weedkiller) due to dog illness and bee death. With children, they talked about looking after animals and the planet. The campaigners also got all the coverage they could by writing blogs, featuring in local newspapers and posting regularly on social media to spread the word. Soon, over 1,000 residents signed the petition in a suburb with just over 5,000.
Presenting the alternatives
Next, they organised a demonstration by Weedingtech of their Foamstream machine to show that you don’t need chemicals to control weeds. The demonstration was successful, with elected councillors, contractors and respected members of the community coming to see it. With the Community Council and members of the local community showing their support, local politicians had a chance to see how invested Balerno are in this cause.
By offering the council public support to transition to safe weed control on streets and pavements and offering positive support from the community, local politicians started to listen. The local MP and MSP signed the petition, and all Councillor candidates from the main political parties wrote statements of support.
Throughout, everything Pesticide-Free Balerno achieved was posted on Instagram and the consistent positive message engaging others from all over the UK and around the world was key.
Finally, Pesticide-Free Balerno presented their petition to the Council by submitting a ‘deputation’ (which is a community cause shown to have popular support – like a petition). They gave a passionate defence of making Balerno pesticide-free. There is still a long way to go before Balerno– and indeed Edinburgh- is permanently pesticide-free, but as Cllr Gavin Corbett said in the meeting: “there’s no doubt where this is headed, councils like Edinburgh will have to increasingly turn away from glyphosate, the only question is whether we’re in the vanguard or at the back”.
Inspired? Start your own local campaign using our pesticide-free resources and campaign advice here.