From the beginning of this year all French public authorities (councils, hospitals and medical facilities, schools and universities, museums, railway stations**, etc) are forbidden to use pesticides in public spaces (including parks, forests, footpaths and tracks*). Many elected officials (5000 communes) have been on board with this now enacted law for several years, and communes such as Preuilly went pesticide free last year or the year before. Pesticides are no longer available on the open shelves of suppliers' stores for private citizens, and by 2019 you will not be able to buy them at all. Biocontrol products are still available, and those deemed to be of so little risk to the environment that they are allowed. If there is a health risk or a notifiable pest that is deemed to only be controllable by pesticides, a special permit may be given. Any area that does end up being treated with pesticides must be cordoned off for at least 6 hours after treatment and have a sign saying when people will be allowed back. If you wish to buy pesticides you must be advised by a trained staff member at the suppliers.
|Not quite pest free yet.|
The new law has come about because of concern about the exposure to pesticides of local authority operatives and residents (particularly children), and the potential for contamination of fresh water courses due to run off. The law covers herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, but not biocides used to kill rodents or molluscs. The punishment for being caught using pesticides where they are forbidden is a maximum of 6 months in prison or a €15 000 fine.
One of the things that will have to change is the French obsession with having everything 'tout propre', which means having not a weed daring to poke its head up through the pavement or lawn. Many local authorities have done quite a lot of outreach, education and consultation to encourage the community to accept a less sterile environment in cemeteries and parks. Local ecology officers are pointing out that bees love dandelions. France is traditionally a very pro-apiarist country and so anything that concerns bees gets peoples attention.
|Blow torching weeds in the street.|
The local authorities have also been trialling new equipment, environmental management techniques and training their staff. In a small town like Preuilly residents often talk to the council operatives as they work and about their work, so they carry a lot of the burden of outreach. In the beginning it was obvious our local guys were a bit sheepish about their new tools and hippy dippy ecological methods. Some of the trials were fairly ineffectual until they got the hang of the equipment or swapped it for something that worked better. Nowadays it looks like they are out and proud, having ironed out most of the problems and seeing the majority of the community being positive about the changes. The commune of Fontainebleau has been a real leader in this process, going pesticide free in 2011 and training its staff in pesticide free techniques of weed management such as using wire brushes on paving, agisting ponies from the equestrian centre in the cemetery, and mulching garden beds.
|The linden trees at Villandry are protected from pests by predatory mites.|
Towns and villages are encouraged to use ladybirds (to control aphids), 'homemade' nettle 'tea' (to fertilize trees) , wild flower meadows (to attract bees and butterflies and discourage weeds) and put up bird nest boxes (to attract birds like tits which will eat caterpillars). When a pest appears that requires immediate management the arsenal includes predatory insects, mites and nematodes; fungi, bacteria and viruses; pheromones; and natural extracts of seaweed, plants and minerals.
|Parasitic wasps being used in the City of Tours greenhouses.|
A key part of the change will be changing the public perception of how a well maintained footpath or nature strip should look. The public are being encouraged to enjoy the spontaneous appearance of plants rather than view them as weeds. There is hope for the orchids in the nature strip near the library after all (especially after I mentioned to a local councillor friend that one of the species was rare and protected...I must now try and speak to James, the council mower guy, about the timing of his work there...)
|Ladybirds in the garden of the Prieuré de St Cosme.|
*Cemeteries and sports fields may be exempt. They are taken on a case by case basis and it depends on whether the community considers them a green space and/or somewhere to walk. Most of the Paris cemeteries have to abide by the ban because they are also tourist destinations. Hard surfaced sports facilities such as basket ball courts are generally exempt from the ban, as they don't work as a green space or somewhere people jog or walk the dog, etc.
**Pesticides are banned at railway stations, but not along the track. The stations are public spaces, but the tracks are out of bounds to unauthorised people, so they are outside of this law to ban pesticides.