At Birmingham Friends of the Earth we are deeply concerned about the impact that the use of pesticides is having on our local environment, biodiversity and wildlife. Our campaign Save Our Soil (SOS) looks at the steps necessary for Birmingham to become pesticide free by 2025.
What are pesticides and why are they a problem?
The effects of pesticides on bees are well documented but the impacts on other wildlife is just as scary but far less publicised. Birds, butterflies and earthworms are amongst the other wildlife impacted by pesticide use. This can happen when pesticides sprayed onto crops drift outside the intended area for spraying.
Any residues of pesticides in soils can affect the quality and structure of soils which is harmful to organisms living there. Chemicals in soil can leach into rivers and water courses and harm aquatic life. Also, when birds eat earthworms and other insects, pesticide residues can then move up through the food chain.
Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Insecticides are designed to kill insects and research suggests that pesticide use is unable to discriminate between species. Bees, butterflies and beetles are amongst the insects put at risk.
Herbicides are used to kill plants, in particular weeds. Whilst these are widely seen as unattractive pests which hinder the growth of main crops, weeds themselves are a vital food source for beneficial pollinators. Weeds also provide a habitat for many insects that help with pollination.
Fungicides are intended to kill fungi and the cells they produce on plants. However, they pose a threat to the environment by causing a build-up of toxic substances within ecosystems. These have a negative impact on micro-organisms which live within soil.
The causes of the pesticide problem
Pesticides are often overused and applied in situations where there is a low risk of actual harm from genuine pests. This has a serious impact on soils and plants given that residues from pesticides can remain there for years.
However, research has shown that the use of pesticides rose by 24% between 2000 and 2016. More recently, greater awareness of the harmful effects of pesticides did lead to a decrease in the use of some pesticides which were banned under EU regulations, however regulatory changes since the UK leaving the EU have led to previous bans on some pesticides being lifted.
We are extremely disappointed by this backwards step, especially as we previously won a campaign for some of harmful neonicotinoids to be banned. This formed one of our main motivations for our Save Our Soil Campaign.
A solution to the pesticide problem
There are many environmentally friendly alternatives to pesticides. Many cities and local Councils have gone pesticide free.
Glastonbury, Somerset were the first to ban pesticides in 2015 and Manningtree, Tendering, and Essex banned all pesticide use in 2021. Birmingham could be next to go pesticide free and Birmingham Friends of the Earth is calling for Birmingham City Council to go pesticide free in our parks and green spaces to help nourish, protect and sustain habitats for our wildlife.
We are calling on Birmingham City Council to produce and implement a no-pesticide strategy by 2025. Specifically, we are calling for this strategy to include:
- A complete ban on the use of all pesticides including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides
- Stop spraying weeds
- Go organic with all seeds and bulbs
- Use only peat-free compost (peat is a plant material which emits greenhouse gases)
- Use organic growing practices when caring for Council owned spaces
- Ensure that Council owned spaces take into account all biodiversity
- Engage at ward level and ensure it applies equally across all Council wards
In spite of the enormous and devastating impact that pesticides have on the environment, biodiversity and people’s health, Birmingham City Council continues to use them regularly.
At Birmingham Friends of the Earth, we firmly believe that the Council needs to ensure that the way green spaces are managed protects and enhances the natural environment of Birmingham and its future. Everyone has the right to a healthy and biodiverse environment.
We need a complete ban on the use of all pesticides and to transition to organic growing practices instead.
What you can do to help our cause:
- Sign our petition calling on Birmingham City Council to go pesticide free
- Write to your councillor and ask them to support our campaign. You can find out who your councillor is here
- Share our petition within your own networks and any community or campaign groups you are involved with and also encourage them to contact their councillors to ask them to support our Save Our Soil Campaign
- Volunteer with us to help plan and promote our Save Our Soil Campaign both online and offline. Email [email protected] to find out more