Ecology, the environment and grounds maintenance

Phillip Rustedin Consultancy
rhode-3.jpg Philip Rusted of tcm looks at the likelihood of pesticide legislation in the UK

Reading the last issue of Pitchcare magazine it seemed to me that there was a good choice of articles concerning herbicide application, tree selection and invasive species.

Despite being separate, all of these are very closely linked and are all a major part of the work we are undertaking. Use of herbicides is a fickle field. Even within the EU there is a whole range of differing regulations throughout Europe, many of which will probably be enforced in the UK before long.

As an island we seem to miss out on a lot of the regulations concerning herbicide usage. I have recently been over in Europe speaking to government bodies and authorities in Holland, Belgium and the Czech Republic. By the time this article is published I will also have spent some time in Romania. The reason for my visits started out as purely commercial ventures looking at the export market of some of the works undertaken by tcm with regard to invasive weed management but, it very quickly became apparent, that the market throughout Europe is totally different to here in the UK.

Belgium, for example, are completely against any herbicide use and are taking the EU regulations to the very highest degree in terms of regulating the use of chemicals.

Whilst over there I was not only discussing the control of aquatic invasives, but also Japanese Knotweed in non aquatic situations. Exceptions can be granted for use of RoundUp Pro Biactive but, on the whole, all chemicals are outlawed.

The Czech Republic also have an interesting view towards herbicides, with only RoundUp Biactive (480g/l) being authorised for use on or adjacent to water as well as for use in the control of Japanese Knotweed. Interestingly though, the dose rate permitted in the Czech Republic far exceeds that in UK and they are getting some interesting results controlling Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed.

The Dutch are somewhere between the UK and Belgium and are generally fairly easy going.

I am looking at establishing trials for biological herbicides in various countries in Europe. There seems to be a firm belief that the days of traditional herbicides are numbered and new innovative methods need to be looked into. Mycoherbicides and biological control is being researched throughout the world. In America there is an intention to use it to combat the drug barons in Colombia and Afghanistan, making the whole potential industry somewhat overshadowed by frightening headlines. Organisations such as CABI Bioscience have been looking into the use of Biological Controls for a number of years and are very close to releasing these control agents. As with all forms of control, one has to weigh up the consequence of leaving the problem against developing new innovative solutions which, by nature, will also have new effects on the environment as a whole. KwdFWithSeeds2.jpg

So why, are they generally so anti herbicides? Surely RoundUp is safe, the safest herbicide there is, you can buy it in garden centres and it is a household name. Despite this, Glyphosate can have a terrible effect on watercourses, causing de-oxygenation and death to aquatic organisms all the way along the food chain. The use of adjuvants (surfactants / wetting agents) is generally regarded as good practice to reduce chemical dose rates but improve efficacy. However, did you know that the adjuvants can kill reptiles by effecting the exchange mechanisms within the skin? A research paper from Canada discovered that 1.2 parts per million of RoundUp in water caused paralysis in tadpoles after 24 hours and death after 96 hours (Bruce Pauli - Canada).
2,4-D amine is a herbicide approved for use on or adjacent to water, yet on the product label is described as poisonous to fish. So who is right and who is wrong?

In a roundabout sort of way this leads me back to where I first started some months ago. We know we have a problem with weeds and we know how to deal with it, but is it that simple? The answer is definitely no.

As an industry we need to be researching and developing methods of weed control that are long term sustainable. Weed control and application of herbicides should be seen as a last line of defence. Why create the problem in the first place?

Ragwort is spread seemingly everywhere throughout the country and millions is spent every year on chemical and manual control, yet the problem never goes away. By taking a step back and looking at the reasons as to why the epidemic is there it should give us all the answers as to how to prevent the need for chemical control.

Good management, good housekeeping and general awareness of the possible problems should be considered as a basic risk assessment, and undertaken before any maintenance regime is set in place. We all do risk assessments for machinery that is potentially dangerous, but very few of us even consider the consequence of our actions when it comes to herbicides or even planting schemes.

As I sit in my office on the Cambridge Science Park, I look out of the window and see a number of potentially invasive species all of which have been planted as part of the landscaping scheme and all for reasons thought to be for the benefit of the local area. These include Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) Hippophae rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) and Hedera helix (Common Ivy) to name but a few.

Following on from the previous article on selecting tree species, there are a number that are simply not suitable for planting in open spaces, golf courses and the like. Climate change will allow for a wider variety of tree species, but they may all come at a price - that being the time and expense of managing future infestations as a result of poor selection.

Interestingly, the Augusta Golf Course, famed for its shows of Rhododendrons and Azaleas at the start of the major golf season is a good example of appropriate use of weed species. Rhododendrons definitely have their place in the landscape but, if left unmanaged, can result in large monocultures. Indeed, we are all aware of the problems faced with landowners managing Rhododendron ponticum. However, the plant does have the advantage of producing specific mycorrhizal associations in the soil, securing nutrients for itself as a plant but hindering the ability for competition to grow. In theory a planting scheme involving Rhododendrons will look stunning, provide all year round colour and result in reduced use of herbicides to maintain the areas in a weed free condition. However, the subsequent maintenance of the Rhododendron itself may be a different matter all together. A single plant can occupy up to 100m2 if left to its own devices.

As vegetation specialists we need to look into a crystal ball and make various assumptions based on past knowledge and research as well as a best guess for the future weather conditions and finances available for ongoing maintenance. One thing we can all be sure of though is that the pesticide regulations are going to become more and more restrictive and we should all be doing what we can to provide regimes suitable for the long term. The use of weed control membranes, mulches, ground cover planting and the like will all benefit us in the long term. Low maintenance tree species will become desirable as labour and machinery costs spiral out of control.

At the end of the day we are all responsible for keeping this country looking its best. So, make some space available for ecological habitats, create hibernaculars for reptiles by using waste products from the maintenance works undertaken. Improve the environment and reduce your maintenance costs. It's a win win situation.

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