Local Authorities are taking action to protect human health and the environment despite lack of leadership from Government
Written by Jon Burke
(Councillor at Hackney Council from 2014 to 2020 and a Hackney Council Cabinet Member from 2016 to 2020)
The UK Government is reviewing our relationship with pesticides right now and has some crucial decisions to make which will affect the future of people and wildlife across the UK for decades to come. With ever increasing evidence revealing the extent of the harms caused by pesticides, it has never been more important to get it right. Scientists are sounding the alarm – we are hurtling towards the sixth mass extinction, putting the very survival of humanity at risk.
It is in large part the environmental crisis that drove me to stand to be a Councillor in the London Borough of Hackney in 2014. I’d just become a father for the first time and knew that I wanted to play an active role in securing a sustainable future for my child. I planned to push through improvements on energy and waste, but did not expect that one of my key focuses in one of London’s most urban boroughs would be on eliminating pesticides.
It remains largely unknown that pesticides are sprayed liberally in most UK towns and cities. Almost all of the chemicals used are herbicides (‘weedkillers’) designed to do little more than keep public spaces looking neat and tidy. Glyphosate – the most common herbicide in the world, classified as a ‘probable human carcinogen’ by the World Health Organization – makes up three-quarters of the total.
In 2017, I travelled around Germany with my family and was struck by the amount and variety of plant life allowed to flourish in its towns and cities. Unsurprisingly, there were visibly many more insects in the air than I was used to in London. I returned to the UK inspired and immediately set about exploring how Hackney could eliminate pesticide use wherever possible.