Following the 2009 EU Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, the Pesticide Action Network, both in the UK and the EU, have been actively promoting the banning of pesticides in urban areas – our parks, pavements, playgrounds and verges – to encourage the wildlife that battle to survive the annual chemical armageddon. And in a programme called Reassembling our Cities, PAN UK is running a series of free on line ‘conversations’ to encourage us to bring pressure to bear on our local councils to abandon, or at least reduce, their use of pesticides.Discovering how many cities across Europe have already managed to go pesticide free is not easy as there are a multiplicty of organisations covering the initiative, but it would appear that most countries in Europe at least have a good sprinkling of cities that have signed up. See this ‘pioneers’ page on the PAN EU site, or this ‘network’ page, or the listings on the Organic Cities Network site. However, what does seem clear is that citizen pressure on local authorities is really important in getting them to consider change. Indeed, anecdotal reports suggest that city ‘operatives’ are often very open to stopping spraying when just asked by passers by, especially if those passers by can explain why spraying with pesticides is so damaging not only to the local wildlife but even to those of us walking in parks and along the streets. (See this fact sheet from the Australian government.)
So the PAN UK programme of ‘conversations’ has been designed to do just that – educate us all and inspire us to harrass our local authorities to at least reduce their pesticide use. The first ‘conversation’ took place on line last night – Our Resilient Neighbours celebrating the plants on our streets and how they came to be there. The three other ‘conversations’ on the 7th, 14th and 21st July are called Space for us all, Connecting Communities and Abundant Green Networks. If the first one was anything to go by, they will be a delight.
So, what were we offered last night?
Sophie Leguil of More than Weeds wants us to stop thinking of weeds as weeds and start thinking of them as vibrant plants that we want to encourage, enjoy and even eat! Step forward dandelions, nettles, chickweed…
Check out her interesting History of Weeding – including an 1831 recipe which involved boiling lime and sulfur together and which was claimed to ‘purge the soil of rebel herbs for several years’.
Ali McKernan, the self styled FUNgi Guy was indeed just that. Under his infectiously enthusiastic guidance it would be hard not to get excited about the truly extraordinary range of fungi which appear in the most bizarre of places. Take these, for example (featured on his Instagram feed) growing on a discarded kitchen spatula that he had chucked in the woodpile!
Ali teaches, leads fungi walks, is a Primary Schools Adviser, a broadcaster – and is guaranteed to turn even the most sceptical of us into a mushroom enthusiast.
No less inspiring was Leif Bersweden an ‘adventuring’ botanist and orchid hunter with his tales of weird and wonderful plants including the Bee Orchid.
The Bee Orchid tricks male bees into thinking its flower is a willing female with which it can mate, depositing its pollen on the amorous male. When the latter discovers that the flower is not a desirable lady bee after all and buzzes off on a further quest it kindly take’s the Bee Orchid’s pollen with it.
And finally herbalist Rasheeqa Ahmad who runs the Mobile Apothecary in North-east London – a network of volunteers interested in herbalism, horticulture and the arts. Amongst other programmes they ‘support underserved communities in the locality with good-quality, homegrown and communally-made herbal remedies.’ She also runs the Community apothecary ‘growing, gathering, making, learning, sharing plant medicine together for community and ecosystem healthcare.’
I can’t wait for next week and ‘Space for us All’.
‘Using pesticides in our urban spaces directly and indirectly harms our vulnerable wildlife. Insect numbers are plummeting and many species are struggling to find viable resources and safe habitats. Nature is not only in our countryside. Our cities are also incredibly important spaces for many species and we need to ensure that abundant and varied habitats are created to support biodiversity in our urban areas. These green spaces need to be safe and pesticide-free in order for wildlife to thrive. Join us in conversation with conservationists across the country who are working to engage diverse communities with wildlife in urban areas.’