Latest survey on pesticide use in public amenities

  • Last updated: 28 November 2022
Many Garden Organic members are concerned about the use of pesticides and weedkillers used in public spaces. Glyphosate formulations to kill weeds in parks and around schools, for instance. The latest survey on public amenity pesticide use from the Health and Safety Executive has recently been released. It makes disturbing reading.
person in white suit spraying weed killer on plants.

Not only is glyphosate the most used weedkiller (77% of all the substances used) but there are instances of other deadly substances - 2.4D, dicamba and aminopyralid, for instance.

There is a huge move in some European countries to either stop or dramatically reduce the use of herbicides in their amenity sectors. "This is an area where the UK Government should step in to provide clear guidance and legislation," writes Nick Mole of PAN UK (Pesticide Action Network). "Legislation that is aimed specifically at reducing and ending the use of pesticides, particularly in areas frequented by the public, throughout the UK. We have seen it in the agriculture sector and the same applies in the amenity sector."

Depressingly few local authorities bothered to respond to the survey - only 9 out of 27 county and 201 district councils. Most of the respondents were golf course managers. Indeed, it also only the second survey to be done; the last one was in 2012. This indicates a lackadaisical approach to the issue.

"In a week where we have reported on the effect of pesticides on urban bees from the use of chemicals in the garden, this makes depressing reading," says James Campbell, Garden Organic Chief Executive. "Councils should seriously reconsider their weed management strategies, in order to make our public spaces safe for insects, soil life and ourselves."

Here is the survey. And here below the full comment from PAN UK:

In April this year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released the results of its latest survey into pesticides used in the amenity sector in the UK. This is the second such survey, the last being for 2012, and it looks at use reported in 2016 – so it is in effect already out of date. However, the new survey does present some interesting and perhaps also worrying information. For clarification the survey looks at pesticides used outside of agriculture but does not include those used by the general public for home and garden.

Over 1,100 companies and organisations in the amenity sector were contacted and asked to respond to the survey. These included contractors, golf courses, local authorities, water companies and others. There was a reported response rate to the initial postal survey of 9% and a further number of organisations responded to an online survey. The response rate from local authorities was particularly poor with only 24 in total, given the large number of local authorities in the UK, all of which will be using pesticides in some form, this is disappointing. On the other hand responses from golf courses far outstripped those of the others providing 119 of the total. In all the number of responders across the board were 209.

It is clear that whilst this has managed to provide some useful information it falls a long way short of giving a complete picture of pesticide use in the amenity sector. It must be assumed that the quantities of active substances use reported as being used are underreported and that there is in fact greater use of pesticides than the survey would indicate. It is not possible to extrapolate usage from the data supplied, sadly.

Unsurprisingly the survey shows that glyphosate is the most widely used active substance in the amenity sector. By weight glyphosate represented 77% of all active substances used by the amenity sector in 2016. In terms of treated area herbicide use accounted for 98.8% of the total with fungicides, insecticides, growth regulators and biological control agents accounting for the rest of the usage. The table below gives the top ten active substances by weight of active applied in 2016.


KG applied in 2016




























Growth Regulator




It is clear that there is a lot of work to be done to reduce the use of herbicides within the amenity sector but some optimism can be taken from the fact that nearly 50% of respondents claim they always consider the use of non-chemical control methods and that the remainder sometimes consider them. However, the question was “how often is the use of non-chemical methods considered?” rather than actually used. That is an important difference.

There is a huge move in some European countries to either stop or dramatically reduce the use of herbicides in particular in their amenity sectors. They have gone beyond just considering and are actually effectively implementing non-chemical control methods. This is an area where the UK Government should step in to provide clear guidance and legislation that is aimed specifically at reducing and ending the use of pesticides particularly in areas frequented by the public throughout the UK. We have seen it in the agriculture sector and the same applies in the amenity sector, voluntary approaches do not work to reduce pesticides and the industry will not regulate itself without strong legislative measures that will help to drive change.

Whilst it is clearly welcome to have as much information about the use of pesticides as possible, and this survey certainly adds to our knowledge, we must point out the shortcomings. In the first instance the fact that there have only been two reports covering the single years 2012 and 2016 means that it is not possible to look at changes in pesticide use across the sector in any meaningful sense. On the whole the survey is an interesting snapshot of a small section of the amenity sector at a specific point in time. But if we are to be able to properly analyse what is going on and use that to drive key decision making about non-agricultural pesticide use then we need more robust data provided more frequently.

In terms of this report and the amenity sector as a whole PAN UK would like to see;

Information provision

  • Undertake a survey every year or at least every two in order to provide the best picture of use and changes within the sector as possible
  • Make reporting to the survey mandatory for all professional users in the amenity sector

Government support

  • Legislation aimed at reducing the use of amenity pesticides

PAN UK has been running a Pesticide-Free Towns campaign for the last three years aimed at stopping and reducing the use of amenity pesticides particularly by local authorities in the UK. There is a clear appetite for change and there have been some notable leaders in going pesticide free such as Glastonbury and Hammersmith & Fulham. PAN UK is now working with a number of London Boroughs to encourage them to follow the lead of Hammersmith & Fulham. As part of our campaign we have produced a range of materials and also held workshops specific to councillors and council officers about going pesticide free.