CITY of York Council has agreed to partially scale back its use of a controversial herbicide believed to harm bees – but will continue to use it for at least the next two years.

Paula Widdowson, executive member for environment and climate change, has made several concessions around the use of glyphosate after a cross-party group of councillors urged her to think again about its impact on pollinators and other wildlife.

Councillors Rosie Baker, Christian Vassie, Mark Warters and Kallum Talyor said the authority was not following its own pollinator strategy when dealing with weeds.

Now the council has agreed to “commit to phasing out the use of glyphosate”, as well as offering individual council wards the chance to have two sprays of the chemical per year in their area, rather than the usual three.

The York Greens are claiming victory over the new proposals, but are calling for more action.

Cllr Baker said after the meeting:  “Reducing our use of chemical weed killers is so important to protect our crucial pollinators. 

“Whilst as Greens we would prefer to go further and faster, the commitments made are a great step forwards, putting York alongside the 80 other councils who are already working to phase out glyphosate.” 

In recent years, a number of studies have concluded that glyphosate could be hazardous to bees. In 2019, a US jury found a glyphosate-based pesticide was a “substantial factor” in causing a man’s cancer.

Customer and corporate services scrutiny management committee chairman, Jonny Crawshaw, said the concessions did not go far enough.

The Labour councillor said after the meeting: “I don’t see this as any sort of victory for anyone who wants to see pesticides removed from the city because there is no concrete proposal or timescale agreed for their removal.”

Early in the meeting, campaigners and members of the public called on the council to take action on glyphosate use.

Nick Mole from the Pesticide Action Network said: “We are in a biodiversity crisis. Not using pesticides and herbicides is one way we can help support biodiversity and counter the decline we are seeing across the UK.”

Resident June Tranmer said: “We’re growing food, herbs and vegetables and flowers in the alleyways and we really would appreciate not having our streets sprayed.”

Councillors at the meeting heard that while many residents want to see less pesticide use, there are also a huge number of complaints when the council is not seen to be dealing with weeds.

The council recently carried out trials of different chemicals to control weeds, but these were found not to be as effective as glyphosate.

Other methods, including hot foam and manual weeding, have been proposed, but council officers said there were environmental and cost drawbacks to these. The council is to consider further trials of alternative approaches.

Although Cllr Widdowson’s concessions were noted by the committee, the original ‘call in’ proposal, which asked the council’s executive committee to reconsider the full options for weed treatment, did not pass a vote.