Apparently old habits die hard

Just over a year ago I wrote a post here entitled “Time to Rethink Our Approach to Grass Verges”.    You may care to read it either for the first time or to refresh your memory if you read it last year.

In case you feel you have no time to do so: I bemoaned the fact that we are so obsessed with neatness and grass mown-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life and wondered if we could not take a more enlightened approach that allowed nature a chance.  Cut higher; cut less often; allow flowers to grow and please, please stop spraying weedkiller everywhere.

The post included this photograph, with the observation that the poppies were probably doomed because Fingal CC would soon come along and spray them.

I was wrong; they didn’t.

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Not last year anyway.

In fact we were subsequently told, by FCC, at a meeting in County Hall that they were now committed to phasing out herbicides on public land unless absolutely unavoidable.  This was good news to us and excellent news to the poppies which flowered and seeded.

That was last year; here is this year:

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The first question I would ask is, which is the more aesthetically pleasing?  If anyone was to answer “the second” my next question would be a bewildered “Why?!”

I have lots more questions.

In fact Sustainable Skerries had lots of questions and we emailed Fingal back in June asking for an explanation.  We have yet to receive a reply.

One person who did get a reply was local Fingal councillor Karen Power.  This is it:

I wish to advise that Fingal Operations staff use a weed control system that distributes herbicide through a controlled droplet applicator. The active ingredient Glyphosate, is in this herbicide mix. The CDA lance system comes with pre-mixed containers containing the herbicide mixed within an oil based solution. The lance allows the oil based solution to fall in droplets onto the weeds in a controlled manner. There is no requirement to use a respirator mask with this system. Most members of the public would be used to herbicide being applied though a water based solution in a traditional larger knapsack sprayer, and this type of applicator does require a respirator mask as the water based solution is sprayed on as a mist. Fingal County Council do not use this type of sprayer as they are much heavier and require a constant water source and manual mixing. The CDA lance applicator comes in pre-mixed containers and are oil based so no atomised mist is created. This means that there is no opportunity to increase the recommended application rate or result in the user physically touching the chemicals. Fingal County Council staff work in accordance with the highest Health and Safety standards, and at all times in accordance with the MSDS sheet guidelines of the chemical being used. It is important that it is noted, that only minimum amounts of herbicide are used, mainly around base of poles and trees where grass cutting machinery cannot reach. The Operations Department is also examining alternative methods such as hot steam and hot foam applicators, however the manpower resource required for, on average six treatments of chemical free, verses one treatment of chemical is an enormous challenge. Until the expectations of the public for a weed free public realm reduces or Glyphosate is banned for use in Ireland or Fingal, it is planned to continue with the current minimum use practice, in line with highest health and safety procedures.

The bold highlighting of the last sentence is my own.

It is quite clear that Fingal are caught between a rock and a hard place here.  an unknown but hopefully small percentage of the population are demanding that vegetation be controlled; Fingal say there is no other financially viable way of doing it than to spray, and so we end up with this:

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So my next question is, who are these unknown champions of glyphosate use?

In fact the answer might be, sadly, that there are a lot.  That is if the shelves and shelves of weedkillers in any garden centre or DIY outlet are anything to go by.  All obviously intended for domestic gardens, where they will in all probability be mixed and used in excess of the recommended dosage (ah sure, an extra splash for luck) and almost certainly without respirator masks.

And glyphosate is nasty stuff.  Very nasty stuff.

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I don’t feel the need to educate anyone on that score here.  You all have internet connections or you wouldn’t be reading this.  You all have access to TV, radio and newspapers so you’re able to inform yourselves and come to your own conclusions.  Suffice to say that Bayer (the manufacturers) are not being faced with a $10.9 billion payout for compensation claims for no reason.

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Having defended Fingal for a few paragraphs, It’s time to go back on the offensive.

As they rightly say, they have a limited budget.  It is far cheaper, apparently, to spray once than send men round with foam or steam several times a year.

Okay.

So what is with their mowing regime so far this year?

Through April and May and into June we had a drought.  The grass stopped growing, burned and started to die.  And yet as fast or faster than it could grow it was mowed.  And mowed.  And mowed.  In late May I watched a council worker on a ride-on mower blowing up clouds of dust and dead leaves and achieving nothing whatsoever.

Where is the sense?  How much diesel was burned and how much expenditure on wages and needless machinery wear and tear incurred?  Could the money not have been spent on something better?

Far from taking a more environmentally friendly approach, Fingal appear to have regressed still further in 2020.

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So is there an alternative, a solution, another way of going about things?

I think there is.

What if we were to stop insisting that grass over an inch high is an abomination?  Let it grow a little; it can still be cut when needed.

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Meanwhile the clover is an excellent nectar source for bees.

What if instead of annihilating vegetation around trees and lamp posts we were to nurture it?  Actually plant flowers or scatter seeds?

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Surely it would look better than this:

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Of course, there is no way Fingal could be expected to do this,; but a community led project is another matter.  In fact there are already plans afoot to do just this.

All that is needed is a commitment from volunteers (watch this space), public support, and an undertaking from Fingal not to come along and spray it when done.

Well folks, what do you think?

5 Comments on “Apparently old habits die hard

    • Love your solution of planting flowers. While we’re at it, why not put down some of our native wild plants? Primrose, coltsfoot, cowslip, herb robert, yarrow. They’ll look after themselves once they’re left alone (I.e. not sprayed!). Happy to volunteer.

      • Hi Breda.
        You might live to regret volunteering for this! 🙂 🙂

        I agree totally that native flora would be best. However, we probably have a long way to go in persuading a lot of people to sign up to this way of thinking at all. In my experience this sort of thing needs to be presented in easily digested stages and you will still get some who will spit it out.
        In the meantime I’d be more than happy to see pollinator friendly garden species planted if that’s what makes people happy; the rest can follow.. It is probably wise to remember that not everyone is looking so far down the line.

        Please contact either Sustainable Skerries or charleseheasman@gmail.com with contact details for yourself, we’d love to have you on board!

    • You might just have volunteered yourself Polly. 🙂

  1. Great article Charlie, totally agree with everything you said. it would be good to get a community based project going

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