Reducing herbicide use on our NNRs

Flanders Moss NNR

The NNR team are always looking for ways to lower our carbon footprint and be more environmentally conscious in our work on reserves. Check out some of the pledges we made at the start of the year (what seems like a lifetime ago now!) to improve how we work. Along with these pledges we have also been considering the way we use herbicides on the NNRs.

The most commonly used herbicide in the world is glyphosate, the active ingredient found in Roundup. Between 2005 and 2014 an estimated 6 billion kilos of glyphosate-based herbicides were sprayed globally. Glyphosate is the chemical that actually kills the target plant, often unwanted “weeds”. It is widely used in the UK by farmers, gardeners, councils and environmental organisations.

On our reserves we use glyphosate for three purposes:

  1. To tackle invasive non-native species, which would otherwise spread and outcompete native plants.
  2. To remove scrub that is encroaching onto our bogs, where their roots soak up water from the peat, causing it to dry out and release carbon into the atmosphere.
  3. To keep paths and car parks from becoming overgrown with vegetation.

Glyphosate reduces the labour demand of scrub and INNS removal and is often very effective at killing persistent plants that continue to return once you have removed them manually. However its use is becoming increasingly controversial and there is ongoing debate about its potential negative impacts on human health, wildlife and soil (after all, its sole purpose is to kill things).

For this reason we have already reduced the amount of herbicide that we use on our reserves and only use it when considered absolutely necessary. In addition, we are trialling alternative methods of keeping target plants at bay. One of these techniques is called ‘mulching’: when you place a layer of mulched organic material over the cut target plant/tree to prevent light from getting to it and stopping it from growing back.

On a patch of Flanders Moss where we have been removing sitka spruce with the volunteers, we have been doing a little experiment to see how effective mulching is compared to herbiciding. In one marked patch we have cleared the scrub by cutting it at the base of the trunk, covering the stump with the tree and stomping it down (the technical term btw). Another marked area has been treated with herbicide and we will monitor these patches to determine which method is best for the job.

Not only is mulching better for the environment but it is also more cost effective as you don’t have to spend any money to do it – you save money on the herbicide itself, the PPE required to use it and the certificated training you need to complete to be able to apply it.

Beautifully modelled herbicide PPE

We are also preparing for a time when it may be illegal to use glyphosate in the UK. In 2017, the EU voted to re-licence glyphosate for 5 years but given the growing public concern and body of research on its negative impacts, it may be banned at the next vote in 2022. So we are trialling alternative methods now to ensure we are ready for a herbicide-free future.

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1 Response to Reducing herbicide use on our NNRs

  1. peigimccann says:

    Round-up used to be the herbicide of choice for poison oak out here in the west, but more and more people are hiring goats to get rid of it!

    Liked by 1 person

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