Northern Ireland

Invasion of Giant Hogweed placing planned £16m Newry city centre park at risk as councillors vote to deploy controversial herbicide

Local council once planned to entirely ban the use of products containing glyphosate but councillors told it is best way to combat the advance of the invasive Giant Hogweed

A 15-acre 'city park' is proposed for the Albert Basin site in Newry
Contracts have been signed to develop the £16m, 15 acre, city park in Newry

Councillors have agreed to increase the use of weedkiller containing a controversial herbicide as the development of a multi-million pound new city centre park is at significant risk from the spread of a giant invasive species.

The Newry, Mourne and Down Council representatives previously decided to ban, then to limit, the use of glyphosate-based weedkillers following the invasion of Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed through the centre of the city around the Albert Basin.

It was previously decided to ban entirely the use of glyphosate but that was amended last year to allow 25% of the amount used in 2019, a base number of approximately 500 litres. The weedkiller will now be deployed at the basin subject to the full council approval.

Giant Hogweed can grow to five metres and contains dangerous sap
Giant Hogweed can grow to five metres and contains dangerous sap

Giant Hogweed, which can grow to up to five metres, and to a lesser extent the Knotweed, has bedded in to the Albert Basin, putting at risk the development of the £16.2m, 15 acre, Newry City Park.

Council official Conor Sage told members of the environment committee the “proliferation of the invasive species throughout the site posed a risk to the contractor from an environmental point of view when they mobilised on site”.

Removal and disposal of hogweed is regarded as contaminated waste and had to be carried out by licensed contractors, the committee was told. Painful lesions, blistering and swelling can follow is skin comes in contact with the sap of the Giant Hogweed.

He added: “Reduction of the use of herbicides is having a significant impact on the ability of the council to manage invasive species. There is an acute risk to the Newry City Park project at Albert Basin particularly from the proliferation of Giant Hogweed, which has spread significantly from 2022.”

Glyphosate is sold under the brand name Round Up
Popular brand RoundUp contains the herbicide glyphosate

Glyphosate is contained in many of the most popular weedkillers, including Bayer’s RoundUp products. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not believe the the herbicide is a likely carcinogenic, a different position from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which has classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

The EU was poised to ban its use from December, 2023, but decided on a 10-year extension, while the UK has pencilled in a late 2025 ban but that could be extended.

In the US, the herbicide is at the centre of a multi-billion dollar legal battle as thousands of plaintiffs claimed prolonged exposure is linked to contracting non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Bayer, the main target, vigorously opposed to the multiple lawsuits and class actions but agreed in 2020 to pay $11 billion (£8.6bn) to settle most claims, though there are thousands still outstanding.

Mournes councillor Henry Reilly. Permission for all LDRS use of image.
Mournes Councillor Henry Reilly

On the proposal of councillor Henry Reilly, seconded by Willie Clarke, it was agreed to note the content of the report and approve the use of herbicides containing glyphosate for controlling invasive species at Albert Basin outside of the current allocation.

Alliance member Jill Truesdale said: “The reduction in the use of glyphosate and getting the Newry City Park, were hard won battles, and to see them pitted against each other is disappointing.”