Volunteers take on the job of weeding Edinburgh streets after persuading council to stop chemical spraying

Balerno could set trend for the whole city

People are asked to volunteer for even just half and hour a week to help with the weeding
People are asked to volunteer for even just half and hour a week to help with the weeding

VOLUNTEERS have been out weeding the streets and pavements of Balerno after their campaign persuaded the city council to stop using a potentially dangerous chemical to do the job.

And now they hope other communities across the city will be inspired to follow suit.

The Pesticide-Free Balerno group lobbied the council earlier this year to highlight local people's fears that health issues which they and their pets had experienced were linked to the spraying of glyphosate weedkiller.

Children are helping out too. "The kids are brilliant," said Annie MacDonald.

Councillors agreed to stop using the chemical in the Balerno area this summer ahead of trialling an alternative hot foam treatment next year.

But that meant the people of Balerno taking on the task of keeping the weeds down this summer.

Teacher Annie MacDonald, who led the deputation to the council, said: "It's very addictive and quite therapeutic. It's just about allocating a little bit of time - we're saying to people half and hour once a week and we're getting lots of hands on board. It's not a huge commitment.

"It would be good to get a lot more communities taking a wee bit of responsibility. I hope they are inspired and think yes we could help with that."

Arrangements are flexible - volunteers are able to do what they can when they can.

She said nearly 30 people were helping in the project.

"We've had to be flexible and creative, working around volunteers' availability, location availability, commitments and government guidelines on social distancing.

"We've been working together but apart, in individual household groups, gradually then working with a few households as guidelines allow.

"Parents have been bringing their kids along and the kids are brilliant. They're very enthusiastic - they are the young environmentalists and it is all about their future. I think they're really on board with that, they want to help and they want to be part of something important."

The young volunteers are among the most enthusiastic about the task.

The weeding operation has been under way since the end of March. Groups and individuals do what they can when they can. And Ms MacDonald says every day there are people out pulling up weeds.

"There's a huge level of positive support for this initiative. We've been contacted by local people who work in large companies who would like to use their volunteer days to help.

"And people out on their daily walks have been noticing our efforts and calling over with gratitude and encouragement.

"When the businesses have started to reopen in Balerno village we decided to make sure all their shopfronts were weed-free so we made that a little focus and they were very grateful. The Grey Horse Inn even gave out vouchers for the best weeders.

People follow government guidelines and observe physical distancing.

"It's very encouraging and satisfying to do something positive at this time that can lift people’s spirits and connect us all as a community."

The council has said the cost of hot foam treatment, estimated at £83,000 for Balerno alone, was prohibitively expensive although they are looking at a trial next year.

Ms MacDonald said she would like to see a breakdown of the council's estimate but acknowledged there was a big cost involved and suggested there could be a mix of eco-friendly weed treatment by the council and manual weeding by volunteers.

She said: "The only way they can change to a more environmentally friendly way is if more communities do support them moving to safe alternatives.

"If more people were to weed outside their own house the council would be able to afford to have a safe environmental treatment for the city - that would be fantastic for Edinburgh."

The Balerno deputation told the council's transport and environment committee in February that some people had suffered respiratory problems or a burning sensation when breathing which they believed was linked to the spraying, while pets had experienced irritated paws among other problems.

In 2015 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer identified glyphosate – the world’s most commonly used herbicide – as a probable human carcinogen.

The council’s environment convener Lesley Macinnes said it had already greatly reduced its use of glyphosate-based herbicides by using a variety of methods, such as deep cleansing streets, mulching, strimming and hoeing.

“We have also trialled a number of glyphosate-alternative herbicides, hot water and hot foam, and ultimately plan to move away from using glyphosate-based herbicides when an effective and financially viable alternative is found. However for the moment they remain the most effective treatment on roads, pavements and other hard surfaces.”