Wish you were here with a heavy-duty strimmer: Brighton hit by war of weeds

A ban on herbicides by one of Britain’s most eco-conscious councils has triggered a war of weeds.

Madeleine Spence www.thetimes.co.uk 

Residents of Brighton and Hove claim their pavements are becoming trip hazards and eyesores after a decision to eradicate the use of chemical-laden weedkillers. Two elderly women are said to have ended up in hospital after slipping.

Critics say the problem is getting out of control after a team of eight staff employed to pull out daisies, dandelions and moss was hit by Covid-19 and self-isolation rules.

Officials are being urged to find a more efficient way to remove the weeds and rethink other rewilding policies, such as the less frequent trimming of verges and hedges.

“It’s all very well for a trendy city-dweller to say, ‘Let’s rewild our pavements’ after hearing about the cause for the first time,” said Robert Nemeth, a councillor for Wish ward, on the seafront. “They probably haven’t got any friends who are elderly or disabled, who are most likely to be seriously injured under the current unsatisfactory situation.”

The issue has its roots in a decision by the council two years ago to phase out the use of herbicides by next year.

Hundreds of residents of Brighton — which has the country’s only Green MP — signed a petition in support of a ban to prevent chemicals such as glyphosate, a key ingredient in many weedkillers, from polluting the environment. Nemeth, a commercial beekeeper, is himself against the use of glyphosate.

Two elderly women are understood to have suffered head injuries when they tripped over weeds

Two elderly women are understood to have suffered head injuries when they tripped over weeds NAMMIE MATTHEWS

Alistair McNair, another councillor, says he has been inundated with complaints from residents who have ended up in hospital after tripping on uneven or cracked pavements, where invasive plants such as sycamore, nettles, buddleia and ragwort are bursting through the concrete.

In the well-heeled Rottingdean ward two women in their eighties are understood to have suffered head injuries when they tripped over weeds.

Some people have started taking matters into their own hands. Ian Cox, a long-time resident, has not only been buying and squirting weedkiller outside his home, but has also taken to mowing nearby verges.

Sprouting pavements are not the only problem. “Overgrown hedgerows left untended are certainly more dangerous to the blind or partially impaired because white sticks don’t navigate them well,” said Natasha Spearhil, 48, who is partially sighted. “Speaking from experience, I certainly get sick and tired of injuries that would otherwise not be sustained because of overhanging bushes.”

In recent years concerns about glyphosate have been subsumed by a rising tide of broader environmentalism, reflecting a new trend in urban rewilding in the UK.

Overgrown areas can prove hazardous to disabled people who may not be able to negotiate a clear path

Overgrown areas can prove hazardous to disabled people who may not be able to negotiate a clear path

NAMMIE MATTHEWS

More than a quarter of councils in England have embraced or are considering rewilding, according to an investigation by Inkcap Journal, a nature and conservation magazine.

Some residents of Brighton have suggested that the environmental cause has become a convenient cover for a council unable or unwilling to keep up with the sprouting problem.

Joy Flowers, 68, who lives in Hollingbury, said: “We did have the hand-weeding team around, but you wouldn’t know it. I think the ‘rewilding’ is a bit of an excuse. The pavements should be kept clear.”

The council said that many residents “have welcomed the weeds as habitats for insects and bees, and complain when we remove them”.

It added that the weed problem had been exacerbated by staff shortages during the pandemic and that the weather had also contributed to “a growth spurt”. It will hire an external contractor to help speed up removal.

For Colin Pow, 74, a Rottingdean resident, weeds are simply wild flowers, and he is all in favour. “I think it’s a great idea. I have nothing against wild flowers and it’s a good way for the council to save money.”

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