What’s in it for Edinburgh’s volunteer Weed Army?

Councillor John McLellan describes how he started pulling out the weeds outside his house, then moved across the road and has now been attacking stray foliage on the way to his local Scotmid. The weeds end up in a brown bin which he pays the Edinburgh City Council to empty.

By John McLellan
Wednesday, 29th July 2020, 4:45 pm
Ediinburgh residents are charged £25 for their brown garden bin (Picture: Jane Barlow)
Ediinburgh residents are charged £25 for their brown garden bin (Picture: Jane Barlow)

Remember when the only reason Scottish local authorities faced a cash shortage was because the Scottish Government chose to keep them short? In Edinburgh it forced decisions like the £25 garden bin charge and also led to a cheeky appeal for local volunteers to take on board more street maintenance like litter-picking and weeding.

Before Covid-19, the council accepted it needed to save £87m by 2023, and now the financial crisis is even deeper jobs like weeding suburban streets are not a priority. If residential streets are not to become dilapidated then it might well need that volunteer army, not quite Nutbush City Limits where the people keep the city clean, but you get the idea.

Less civic pride but more OCD, a couple of months ago I took a hoe to the kerb outside our house where clumps of grass and dandelions made my wee patch look annoyingly unkempt. Then I got irritated by greenery sprouting from every crack on the little junction across the road, so I did that too.

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Volunteers take on the job of weeding Edinburgh streets after persuading council...

And the more I did the more the wild foliage on the way to the Scotmid bugged me, so over the last fortnight they’ve gone too.

Perhaps it’s becoming a bit of an obsession and this week I found myself out covering graffiti with some fence treatment.

Lots of people stopped to tell me I was doing a good job, which was nice, and a friendly neighbour with a bottle of wine tucked under his arm on his way out to dinner helpfully pointed out bits I’d missed.

A local community councillor told me she had actually been informed by council officers that such voluntary efforts couldn’t be supported because of safety concerns, which I told her was odd because one of those who had stopped for a chat was none other than the council’s director of place, Paul Lawrence, who I’m sure would have told me if it was against the rules.

On enquiring, it turns out guidance has changed and people can get stuck in themselves, although the advice is to wear something hi-viz if you are near a road.

The irony is that my brown bin is now full with weeds from the public highway which I’m paying the council £25 to empty. So here’s the deal, Mr Lawrence; waive the charge for another brown bin and I’ll keep going.

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