Patricia Dance - Pesticide-Free Campaigner in RossendaleMeet Patricia Dance, Pesticide-Free Rossendale

What made you want to campaign to make your area pesticide free?

Rossendale is a forgotten gem with rugged moors (some made famous by the Brontë family), dramatic scenery, fabulous walks, historic mills, steam railways, drystone walls and lots of sheep!

To those who asked why on earth we wanted to move here from Surrey 40 years ago, all I can say is look it up and you will see! My motivation for campaigning has grown out of this love for our landscape and, of course, my family which live among these hills and valleys. Never would I have thought I would ever campaign! Yes, I sign all the petitions and write letters concerning matters close to my heart, but I never thought I would campaign on my own.

I do have a faith, and I believe that sometimes we are propelled into a situation which we can choose to ignore and take the easy way out, or, we can ‘get out of the boat’. One day, as I was taking my very young children to the local primary school (Northern County Primary, Weir) I had my first encounter with an ‘alien’, dressed in a white suit, spraying within inches of the children. Thus began a very long journey of campaigning for a pesticide-free town which has so far lasted over 26 years.

Being someone who thought weeds just disappeared of their own accord I started to question my council; the more I found out, the more horrified I became. Over the years the pesticides have changed from one silver bullet to another, but the damaging effects do not.

How did you start your campaign i.e. finding key allies?

So a day in the life of a campaigner begins with the first day when, as an individual, you suddenly become aware of an activity which impacts the world in which we live. Days become filled with learning, reaching out to crucial decision-makers – be it the local council, government or those in education. The key is to raise awareness, discuss options and above all, acknowledge that weeds are a problem in certain situations. They sometimes do have to be dealt with, but let us deal with them in a manner which requires more thought and patience than a man zipping around on a quadbike and a spray-bottle.

How did you sustain it and build momentum in your community?

Situations present themselves to find allies and build support. For instance, when articles on bees being killed after neighbouring councils sprayed herbicides appear in newspapers. This is awful but take it as an opportunity to raise awareness. The past two years my life was put on hold as I decided to organise a demonstration of an alternative weed control system called Foamstream. It took months of preparation. I wrote to all neighbouring councils, park managers, hospital executives, RHS, Canal and Rivers Trust, stately homes, housing associations, holiday parks etc. I have written to hundreds of people over the years and I even had a lovely letter of support from Prince Charles concerning our school.

Northern County Primary School in Rossendale is pesticide-free

Northern County Primary School in Rossendale is pesticide-free. Credit: Patricia Dance.

What challenges did you face along the way and how did you overcome them?

Sometimes I feel disheartened and like I am the only one working to make my area pesticide-free! But, I just remember all those wonderful people who have been open to change and have an environmental conscience, like Mrs Jackie Marr, Headmistress of Northern County Primary. You can read her story in the spring issue of The Organic Way magazine. To my knowledge, our little village school is the only one in Lancashire to go pesticide-free.

I am also grateful to David McChesney and Tony Watson from Rossendale Borough Council who have been opened-minded to non-chemical weed control and are trialling alternatives, to Alyson Barnes, Leader of our Council, and to Councillor Janice Johnson, who have all supported me. At the end of last year, they were the first council I know of in Lancashire to ban glyphosate on all council-owned land.

Finally, I’m thankful for the CEO, Leo De Montaigne, at Weedingtech (an alternative weed control system I had read about) who kindly allowed me to organise several demonstrations and sent colleagues on the very long journey up here to meet us.

What would be your advice for someone struggling with their campaign?

You will have bad days, you might even be ridiculed and sworn at. You will have endless discussions – so make sure you know your stuff. You WILL be challenged. Some days you may feel as if you have had enough. The day of a campaigner can involve a very long and lonely walk so remember when you get weary, rest a while, and have a break. But don’t give up. Never fear your journey ahead, it will be so worth it.

For moral support, turn to up-to-date, well informed advice from the experts, and most importantly, know you can always find a friendly voice at PAN UK. They have been there for me when my boat hit rough seas!

What next for you and your campaign?

Thirty years later, Northern County Primary is now pesticide-free, and I still visit, although this time the little hands I hold are those of my darling grandchildren. Because I dared to stand up for the pesticide-free cause, I can now leave them in school knowing that at least there they will be safe. Is it worth sticking your neck out? Yes! I continue to lobby my council and will keep going until the whole of Rossendale is pesticide-free. Rossendale is a small borough of outstanding beauty situated in East Lancashire. I want to make it even better for my grandchildren, and in thirty years’ time, perhaps their children will be clutching their hands on the way to school into a safe and secure environment in which we all played our part.