Stop Weedkiller Action Project
Since our very first 2017 entry into the Tidy Towns Competition the adjudicators reports annually criticise the excessive evidence of weedkiller use throughout Johnstown. The committee therefore decided that we can't promote biodiversity whilst it is being killed by others and therefore actions to stop the use of weed killer became a 2021 focus.
Targeting the public spaces maintained by Meath County Council would result in our actions being highly evident, gain the most publicity, and invoke discussion about the contradiction of using chemical poisons and promoting biodiversity.
A small focus group of volunteers set about identifying problem areas and researching actions that could address them without using chemicals and devised a 2 stage program.
Involved convincing Meath County Council to allow us to tackle weeds along the public roads without chemical weedkiller.
In April 2021 we made our submission to the Environment Department and Maintenance Departments of Meath County Council (MCC) putting forward a proposal for them to stop spraying weed killer in public areas and to allow us to manually remove those weeds. This matched with our MCC Green KM Initiative and contained all the key action points and includes the 4km of main roads (8km of pavement): Bothar Sion, Metges Road, and the school approach road highlighted in the map.
1st Year Review
1, Pavement Weeds.
A variety of weeds grow in the cracks between floor surfaces and are only removed in order to provide a clear pedestrian/cycle path and to prevent street drains from becoming blocked.
We began clearing weeds in early April 2021 and although the response on social media to our work has been extremely positive, the 'hands-on' support has been very low. We appreciate that Covid concerns, work commitments, poor weather, and the manual labour required would mean that this would not be something for everyone. Volunteers so far have been adults but it is an action where young children can help with the light action using the patio scrapers.
The visual results of weeding are immediate with clear paths and a considerable volume of weeds and debris removed for composting locally. We appreciate that with only a few active vounteers we cannot weed all of Johnstown by hand unless each estate forms action groups.
1st Year Review
It's clear that weeds quickly return if they have suitable conditions: warmth, water, a medium, and sunlight. Our weeding work does not usually remove the roots and therefore the leaves return within 1 to 2 weeks. Keeping the weeds in check using patio scrapers on a weekly basis is effective but it is time-consuming given that even the 4 km of main road being maintained actually has 12km of edges from the cycle lane and roadside.
The freeze-thaw action on rainwater means that cracks are inevitable in the roadside edge and pavements. Therefore the 3 options exist:
Do nothing - this means weeds will soon grow to cover the edges and pose a hazard to pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.
Fill the cracks - this will temporarily remove the habitat until the freeze-thaw action returns the cracks. Also, Johnstown has over 70km of roadside edge!
Kill the roots - normally chemicals are used twice a year. A natural, and environmentally sustainable alternative to traditional weed killer does exist. In Summer 2021 we reached out to Athboy Tidy Towns about their experience using the ‘Foamstream’ environmentally safe system. They have received positive feedback and offered encouragement to pursue it. We intend to measure the scale of Johnstown, and Navan, requirements in order to compare projects & costs before making a future long-term proposal to Meath County Council.
2, Verges and Kerbs.
In 2020 online research identified an ‘edger’ device that cuts off the excess turf that normally spills onto the path or over the roadside kerbs. By not having the excess growth it will stop the most common use of weedkiller on the public road.
We could not find a trade which hired these and after much discussions with local greenkeepers we purchased a petrol driven lawn edger. We were delighted when we trialed the machine over 1/2km of edging within the Bailis Downs estate, Sept 2020. Within 1 hour just 2 people achieved what had previously taken 2 days by several volunteers using shovels.
The effects are highly visible immediately but the progress of the 2-person job has been hampered by the current wet weather and only 1/2km of the route has been completed to date. When the weather becomes dry we hope to speedily complete the single pass of the 8km total of roadside lawn verge and kerb edges.
Fortunately, the action is not required to be repeated to the same area annually. This will allow us to venture in subsequent years into local estates to help them tackle their weedkiller use in public spaces.
1st Year Review
The Edger certainly works and provides instant results. However, the soil needs to be reasonably dry or the machine requires regular debris removal and the wet turf weight limits the trailer volume.
By including a prominent stretch within a residential area will hopefully gather more volunteers to help use the device instead of paying contractors to use weed killer.
Since a lawnmower can't cut neatly around objects, and strimmers carry risk and liability, weed killer is often used for convenience rather than real need. Hand cutting tools simply aren't on the quick and convenient list.
Highly evident signs of weedkiller use have become the norm in Johnstown. Areas around trees, signs, bins, lamp posts, bus stops, and fences are now being trimmed with a petrol strimmer / hand clippers and grass is being let to regrow naturally.
1st Year Review
In areas where weed killer had be used annually it was important to discover how sterile the soil had become. It was decided to let the grass and weeds regrow to see what happens.
Since the soil is extremely poor and possibly sterile the intention is to revisit these areas next year using the soil recovered by the edging project and to reseed some areas with grass.
One large area around a lamppost has been turfed using large cuttings from the edging work but this is not a simple task and happened more by chance than planning and is unlikely to be repeated.
Although MCC agreed not to spray weed killer we didn’t realise the IDA maintain the fence line along Bothar Sion between the shopping centre and the IDA entrance. Having seen the evidence of the weedkiller use this year we have entered into discussion with them to stop the practice and be included in our project area.1st Year Review.
To complete the loop we envisaged collecting 3,000kg (6 trailer loads) of edge cuttings and weed collections during our first season. We approached Walterstown GFC who agreed to provide a discreet area for us to compost the material. A section of field has been allocated (about the size of a family car) where we are building cubic metre layered compost heaps using recycled cardboard, collected by residents from online shopping, and a plastic cover placed over to inhibit light, rain and further growth. Within 12 to 18mths we hope to have soil that we can reuse in public planting projects.
Since edging action has not been carried out before to most of the estate’s green spaces we expect the amount collected to significantly reduce once every area has been edged once. We predict the amount collected in this time to exceed 20,000 kg
Phase 1 of our program to make Johnstown chemical weedkiller free involved considerable amounts of labour and time that proved to be very effective but is ultimately unsustainable.
Bothar Sion Fence
School Approach Road
Metges Road North
Metges Road South
Involved identifying where and why others use weedkiller and to implement a more practical long term alternative to manual weeding.
In 2022 we are asking Residents Groups who manage their estates, or employ contractors, to pledge not to use poisonous chemicals to control weeds.
In areas where it is being used we will seek engagement to understand why and if there are alternative solutions.
ORANGE - Not using weedkiller, No Signs of its use
PINK - Some use
BLUE - Yet to confirm
The next stage of our plan is to implement an environmentally friendly treatment program called Foamstream. The device is essentially a water tank, heater, foam mixing agent, and low-pressure pump. These are mounted on a trailer to supply a handheld lance with the weed-killing hot foam. By smothering unwanted plants in scalding hot water it kills both the plant and any near-surface seeds. For maximum effectiveness the heat needs to bind on the plant for up to a minute which is achieved using an inert foam.
How does it work?
In February 2022 volunteers visited Ireland's foamstream showroom near Portliase for a hands-on demonstration. Our feedback is that it's quick, very simple to use, very effective, and that we want it for use in Johnstown!
We estimate that Johnstown's 70km of kerbs and paths could theoretically be treated in a little over one full week! 2 further treatments are required during the first year but subsequent years would require only 2 visits since the treatment depletes the seed bank.
In March 2022 we submitted an application request for the MCC Community Capital Grant. For a voluntary group to operate the treatment creates new, and unusual, challenges that we have had to resolve even before submitting our grant request.
Trailer storage & Insurance
Towing vehicle capable of the weight
Use on public highways
Public liability insurance
If the Council takes up the opportunity to operate the treatment it would solve these issues and using one machine they could not only treat Johnstown but all of Navan.
Our grant application was finally decided in October 2022 and declined for a number of reasons. We will be revisiting the Council to see how we can help them to change their systems and follow the growing number of Irish Councils now using non-harmful weed management.
Weeds in paths continue to grow and we trailed an alternative process in October working with the Council maintenance department. Cutting the weed heads with a scraper is labour-intensive but reasonably quick and easy. Collecting the waste debris is however extremely time-consuming and results in heavy wheelbarrow loads that also need removal offsite. Involving the Council's road sweeper took 25% of the time during a trial area.
After the Spring weeds appeared, flowered and then faded we commenced monthly regular sweeps with the assistance of the Council helping to clearup the debris produced.
Sustainable Development Goals
This project has connections with the following categories: