Pesticide Free Balerno
I am a mum who lives in Balerno, Scotland, just south of Edinburgh. I suffered many illnesses until age 40, which meant spending a year in the hospital as a child and being on various medications. My test results never gave me any answers.
When I turned 40, I took control of my health. Eliminating dairy and gluten, I reduced particular food and environmental chemicals (both naturally occurring and artificial). Going primarily organic, I regained my health.
But then, I noticed every time our Council used pesticides for weed control, all of my symptoms would suddenly return. By this stage, having worked diligently to eliminate toxins from my body, I was in disbelief. I had heard about the heavy pesticide use in America and thought we were safe here in the U.K. I soon learned I was very wrong!
At first, I tried to ignore the spraying, thinking it was beyond my control. Maybe someone else who knew more would do something. However, after a life-threatening episode woke me up, I had to do something.
I could relate to what Zen Honeycutt of Moms Across America says, ”I always wondered why someone didn’t do something about that, and then I realized that I am someone.”
I decided it was time to take action. When I initially spoke to the Council, they told me that glyphosate was “safe and legal.” The Council had not heard of anyone else having issues from the spraying. However, I later found out this was debatable because none of my neighbors knew that glyphosate was being sprayed, so how could they make the connection?
I researched further, and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) U.K. told me that Councils all over the U.K. did indeed use glyphosate. The science showed that it was causing damage to the environment and people’s health. In 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, and it was banned and restricted in many parts of the world!
I summoned the courage to request the Council to stop spray pesticides outside our home, and surprisingly, they agreed to stop. Emboldened, a few friends and I started to speak to neighbors and collected signatures to halt the application of pesticides in our street. The Council decided to use a safe vinegar-based alternative. We had a small but significant victory!
All appeared well. I felt some relief until I received an email advising me the Council would start applying glyphosate on the surrounding streets. Scared of my bodily reactions returning, I begged that they halt the pesticide application. The Council agreed to a temporary halt and gave us residents four days to collect signatures supporting the use of safe alternatives. G
A small but determined group of friends, family, and Young Environmentalists began to gather signatures for our cause from the residents in our town. The paper petition asked the Council to stop applying harmful pesticides for weed control on our streets, pavements, and green areas and for safe alternatives to be used instead.
During this time, as we raised awareness and collected signatures, and talked to our community members, we began to hear reports of suspected harm from the pesticides. Neighbors reported sores on their dog paws, damage to newly planted trees, increased asthma, and hay fever symptoms - all when the Council used the weed killer. Those with diabetes, autoimmune and neurological issues signed the petition because they did not want their health conditions worsened by the unnecessary use of a chemical to remove weeds. We gained the signatures of 200 homes in 4 days, and my neighborhood, Cherry Tree Estate, became Pesticide Free!! It was a massive relief for so many of us with vulnerable health issues and pets to protect. We were delighted that other towns who had heard of our success also began working to be Pesticide Free.
BALERNO BECAME PESTICIDE-FREE IN 2020
After the success in my neighborhood, we took our case to a Committee in Edinburgh. We were grateful that a representative from PAN U.K. traveled from London to speak on the initiative. After much discussion, they reached an agreement that Balerno would become Pesticide Free in 2020 and have their weeds manually removed by the volunteer weeding group with a trial of safe alternatives in 2021.
VOLUNTEER WEEDING GROUP FORMED IN 2020
We organized a volunteer wedding group to scrap and pull the weeds from the sidewalks. Knowing that its streets and pavements were free of harmful pesticides, volunteers could put their hands in the earth and pull weeds.
Anyone with at least half an hour to spare, mums, dads, grandparents, whole families, and professionals from all walks of life, gave up some time to weed wherever it suited them. Together, we illustrated how it is perfectly possible to weed without using harmful chemicals.
SAFE ALTERNATIVES IN 2021
Some residents wanted the weeds for biodiversity and pollinators, while others merely complained about the weeds. We had to acknowledge that some people liked the weeds removed, no matter the health risk. Councils also used the excuses of “weeds as a tripping hazard” or “cracked pavements” and “blocked drains” so they could return to the convenience of using glyphosate.
Because Councils have to deal with the weeds we realized we need to come up with a solution and at least remove most of them, despite their biodiversity benefits. So in addition to the volunteer weeding, we offered the solution of a hot foam product that is safe and non toxic. Trials have begun. By discontinuing the use of glyphosate, we ended up creating an ideal environment for pollinators to thrive.
Many have asked what some of the specific actions were that we took to raise awareness.
- We started through a paper petition at Local Markets, Fairs, schools, and other local events. An online petition also helped reach more people.
- We also engaged local dog walkers, parenting groups, and children’s groups like the art club and Scouts.
- Our young Environmentalists were the most engaged, enthusiastic individuals and became core to the initiative’s success. They couldn’t understand why adults would damage themselves and the environment.
- Sharing clear and easy-to-understand leaflets from PAN helped us gain more support. Creating customized flyers to appeal to different types of people (dog walkers, parents, etc.).
- Educating and sharing the facts in an easy-to-understand, quick, and simple format resonated with the community, including Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.
- A solution! Informing the community that our volunteers could remove their weeds.
- Writing articles for local papers and magazines.
- Applying for a small grant from our local Scotmid cooperative store and using the funds to purchase branded T-shirts for the volunteer group to help promote the campaign and buy tools and gloves for weeding. We also put our banners outside the store, giving us backing and credibility from an established trusted business, letting the Council and community know we were serious.
- Collaborating positively with everyone, no matter their opinion.
- We kept our campaign simple and about removing weeds on our streets, pavements, and green spaces using a safe alternative to glyphosate and didn’t get into debates about agriculture and private properties.
Because the decision-makers were so resistant, I admit, at times, I felt hopeless. But I would never forget the story of Zen and other mothers in the book UNSTOPPABLE: Transforming Sickness and Struggle into Triumph. Although I didn’t feel unstoppable, we knew we were right, our voices were critical, and we had a duty to protect those most vulnerable. We couldn’t give up and had to keep moving towards the objective, and I remembered staying positive and focusing on the future we wanted - a healthy pesticide-free village, so I kept going!
Here are my top tips for success despite opposition:
- Read inspiring books and stories of people like Zen who have achieved great things and inspire yourself
- Never accept “no” for an answer and understand there is always a way.
- Keep moving towards your goal, even if it’s only baby steps. Trying is a lot better than doing nothing.
- Welcome opposing views. Look for ways to collaborate and find common ground.
- Do the work and effort to make it less effort for others. If it’s made easy for those you are trying to persuade, they are more likely to embrace the change.
- Keep it simple and focused on the purpose.
- Protect those most vulnerable. Have the courage to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Even if it’s not your comfort zone, at least you are trying.
- Don’t be distracted by ‘green’ alternative projects. Planting wildflowers is no excuse for continuing to spray.
- Don’t be put off by a loud few. The silent majority is on the winning right side. We just need to speak up and find out we are not alone. Coming together is powerful and authentic.
- Stay positive and keep a sense of humor.
- Embrace and welcome all opinions, ages, and abilities and make the experience positive for others. Be flexible and grateful to those who genuinely want to help.
- Pushback on your initiative can be an excellent opportunity to find creative new solutions, learn more about a situation, and grow.
- Don’t apologize for trying to find better ways of doing things and about not being perfect. Your vulnerability can be your asset.
- Don’t apologize for the weeds. They are not as inconvenient as cancer, and no one has ever died of weed growth.
- Some products claim to be “safe and effective.” Listen to those who do not profit from the pain of others rather than the companies who do.
- Do your research. It’s your health.
People should be allowed to make an informed choice. No one should have harmful chemicals forced upon them. I believe everyone in every community can do what we did in Balerno, and my most sincere hope is that you and everyone does the same.
Don’t expect change without action. Do something. Stop thinking someone else will do it. Make a start, and others will continue on.
- Volunteer Weeding Group THANK YOUs!
- Why Pesticide-Free?
- About Hot Foam safe alternative (from the USA)
If you would like to get in contact with Pesticide Free Balerno