Council looks to cut costs of weed killing, grass trimming

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A bold new strategy to manage Highland green spaces could see the introduction of biodegradable weedkiller and wild flowers.

Following a motion to stop the use of glyphosate weedkiller in public spaces, after it was used near children’s play areas, the Highland Council is looking into a foam substitute.

Glyphosate has been identified as a substance hazardous to public health.

At the forefront of the campaign to remove glyphosate from public spaces, Lochaber councillor Niall McLean said: ‘We are concerned about the amount of weed killing in play parks, school playgrounds and feel it got out of hand in terms of how much they were doing.

‘The council has been trialling this hot foam which is inert and environmentally-friendly.’

The same hot foam has been used by Glastonbury Town Council since 2016. It found that despite the initial cost of machinery, it is cheaper and more effective than glyphosate.

Weedingtech, the company that produces the foam, boasts the herbicide-free weedkiller can be used in all weather conditions, whereas glyphosate loses effectiveness even if it begins to rain 10 days after application.

The foam is a blend of plant oils and sugars that is used as an insulation method and way for the hot water to stay on weeds for longer to ensure effectiveness.

After consulting with members of the community, the council also wants more wild areas.

Councillor McLean said: ‘Previously there has been a blanket approach of cutting all the grass short and hoping people will be happy with that, but times are changing and I think people want to see more wild flowers. That in turn could save the council money if we execute it properly.’

The council will be asking communities what they want, but Councillor McLean thinks there also needs to be education on where weeds can be damaging.

He said: ‘Dandelions, for example, are traditionally thought of as weeds but they are really important for the ecosystem with pollinators like bees.

‘We need to move away from the traditional idea of large manicured areas and think about the benefits of vegetation.’

Rotherham has planted wildflowers on eight miles of roads and saved thousands in maintenance costs. Photograph: Pictorial Meadows

Upkeep of green spaces can be time consuming and expensive but if rough spots are designated wild flowers can flourish through a system of permaculture.

Permaculture Association chairman Graham Bell said: ‘If you limit the cutting of grass to twice a year then wild flowers will flourish at road sides and anywhere else this is adopted. There does still need to be some management as the grass can just take over if not cut.

‘Once wild flowers are established, these areas attract invertebrates, birds and generate a huge benefit to the biodiversity of the area.

‘Every plant was once a weed until we found a use for it. All we have done is favour certain ones. Dandelions are great attractor for bees which are facing a huge pressure from chemical farming. If we don’t have bees then 60 per cent of what we eat cannot be produced, because it is dependent on bees pollinating it.

‘If you let things happen they will, but every time you mow you stop the process of growth.’

Flowers do not stay in bloom all year and the point where they go to root and leave dead stems can be a point of contention between a good environment for invertebrates and a messy public area.

This is something that Pictorial Meadows, a group that has helped create roadside wildflower areas, has dealt with. A spokesperson said: ‘There is always a balance between when to cut and collect with regards to best for invertebrates, and what the general public are willing to accept.

‘We’ve found though that with community engagement to build understanding, most areas are willing to tolerate the period of untidyness over winter in order to support the creepy crawlies.’

Various councils in England have begun to ‘rewild’ roadsides and only cutting when necessary has seen savings of up to £93,000 per year in Dorset.