Case Study: Pesticide-Free Bristol

What campaigners did  

In June 2015, a group of parents decided to start a campaign for a pesticide-free Bristol after witnessing glyphosate being sprayed in areas where their children were playing. The new group was concerned about the finding by IARC that glyphosate was a ‘probable human carcinogen’ and the effects it might have on their children. The new group met a few times and reached out to local environment, food and parents/guardians groups to gain their support.

Four months later, this expanded group launched the Pesticide Safe Bristol Alliance (PSBA), demanding an end to the routine use of toxic weed killers in public spaces. By December, through direct advocacy, they had convinced a few local schools to stop using glyphosate in play areas.

In March 2016, the PSBA launched an offline survey asking local residents about their opinions on urban pesticide use. The survey revealed that one in two Bristol residents supported a total ban on the use of herbicides in public spaces. At the same time, the PSBA launched a petition, succeeding in collecting enough signatures to trigger a full council debate. Following this debate, a trial of alternatives was started in the Cotham Ward of Bristol. Unfortunately, the trial was poorly designed since it relied on simply replacing pesticides with vinegar, instead of the context-specific suite of approaches required to go pesticide-free. Local residents complained that the area smelt of fish and chips!!! The trial was criticised by the media and the PSBA.

In the run up to the Bristol Mayoral election in May 2016, the PSBA asked all the candidates to make a statement about their position on the use of pesticides. Marvin Rees, the eventual winner and current Mayor of Bristol, promised to ‘seek an alternative to glyphosate-based pesticides’. Despite this promise, no positive action was taken and the campaign continued to work with local residents, schools and other key stakeholders across Bristol as well as initiating another public petition.

As part of the ongoing campaign, by April 2017 hundreds of households in Bristol had signed up as individual ‘Pesticide Free Zones’, pledging to maintain gardens, allotments and other outdoor spaces without the use of toxic chemicals. Eventually in November 2018, the second petition was submitted to the council triggering another full debate on the issue. At the same time a group of local organisations in Bristol wrote an open letter to the Mayor of Bristol, asking him to form a Land Managers Task Force with the goal of phasing out glyphosate across the whole of Bristol, going beyond just land managed by the council.

Bristol - a pesticide-free case study

How did the council move forward?  

In January 2019, a Motion put forward by Liberal Democrat Councillor Anthony Negus – longtime supporter of the pesticide-free Bristol campaign – was adopted unanimously by Bristol Councillors from all political parties. The adopted Motion called for the phasing out of pesticide use over a three year period and the establishment of a task force to ensure that all land managers in Bristol, not just the council, work closely together over the next three years to deliver a truly pesticide-free city for the residents of Bristol. The task force is ongoing.

Conclusions

  • Some trials aren’t successful – this should not be an excuse for your council to give up!
  • Just because the mayor/council have promised to do it doesn’t always mean that they will. They need to be held to account.
  • Parent/guardian groups can be key allies.
  • A phase-out plan with a suite of alternatives used in different places is better than a quick like-for-like alternative.
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