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Local environmental groups in Lochaber have called on Highland Council to rethink its plans to restart some grass cutting services, albeit on a restricted scale due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The local authority said all work will be carried out in adherence to the national guidelines on what are essential services, and with strict social distancing measures in place.
The services permitted focus mainly on mowed grass and include essential maintenance on the roadside, roundabouts and verges where there may be a road safety issue.
Grass cutting in parks to enable people to take exercise is also planned and there will also be limited grass cutting in burial grounds, areas of council housing and in some other open spaces.
But Highland councillor Niall McLean (Fort William and Ardnamurchan) was scathing about the proposals.
He told the Lochaber Times: ‘Highland Council seems to be back to business as usual with excessive cutting and the use of weed killer, despite my motion passing at full council for a moratorium on the use of weed killer due to safety concerns.
‘We were told there would be a study of other methods to avoid the use of weed killer as per the health and safety executives guidelines on the control of hazardous substances.
‘We have seen terrible misuse of glyphosate-based weed killers in the past by Highland Council such as spraying on and around children’s play equipment and near water courses.
‘The council needs to respect the democratic process within council and stop using glyphosate. Instead of using a pandemic as an excuse to carry on as usual, it may well be an ideal time to try reducing grass cutting.
‘I would also question if grass cutting is essential works. If the council is as affected as it says it is with a huge budget impact from COVID-19, why is it wasting money on grass cutting and not accepting that creating a more biodiversity landscape with long grass and wild flowers is a better way forward?’
Asked for their views, Lochaber Environmental Group (LEG) and the local branch of Extinction Rebellion (XR) both called for the council to rethink its plans.
LEG told us it was ‘saddened and disappointed’ to see that council mowing was to resume.
‘During lockdown, the profusion of wildflowers growing along road and path verges and in public spaces has been an uplifting sight, contributing to many people’s wellbeing over the last couple of months,’ said a spokesperson.
‘We had hoped that Highland Council would take this opportunity to adopt a more wildlife-friendly management regime to grass cutting as COVID-19 restrictions are eased.
‘Not only would this give our precious wildflowers and insects the opportunity to thrive, reduced cutting regimes will also help the council reduce its carbon emissions, and cut costs.
‘If you would like to see wildflowers flourishing along our road verges and in public spaces, please write to your local councillor. You can also sign the Plantlife Road Verges petition.’
The local XR spokesperson added: ‘As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, Highland Council should grasp the opportunity to introduce environmentally-friendly practices and demonstrate that its declaration last year of a climate and ecological emergency was not just empty words.
‘Over the last two months we have seen and experienced what a kinder, quieter and greener world looks like as many people reconnect with the natural world around them.
‘The post pandemic world should value and protect people and nature, not seek to destroy our natural life support systems at every opportunity.
‘Now is the time for councils and government to look at the alternatives to business as usual and create a new normal.’
To sign the petition visit plantlife.love-wildflowers.org.uk/roadvergecampaign