Methods & Techniques

On pesticide free towns

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Part I – Why > Which > Who > What

Part II – Preventative methods

Part III – Alternatives to weedkiller and public space management

Part IV – Communication and awareness-raising

Part V – The cost issue

Part I – Why > Which > Who > What

Stories & principles #1
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Why make public areas pesticide free?

Becoming pesticide free will have benefits for:

  • ​The environment: reduced pollution (air, ground and water). Herbicide use in urban areas, and more specifically on impermeable surfaces, is actually a major source of water pollution, which generates significant costs for local authorities.
  • Biodiversity: pollinating insects and other beneficial insects, soil micro-organisms, birds, amphibians, pets and so on.
  • Citizens: protection for the most vulnerable groups, quality of life for residents and those entering the city and its green areas.
  • Civil workers in parks and public spaces: short- and long-term health consequences from occupational exposure.

​Cutting out pesticide use in cities is common sense. Cutting out pesticides will lead to spontaneous plant growth occuring. The concept of allowing a few wild plant species to grow on pavements, along footpaths and in cemeteries is slowly gaining popularity, and hopefully one day we will see real nature developing in the towns.

Rachel Carson, author of the Silent Spring, 1962

“The more I learned about the use of pesticides, the more appalled I became. I realized that here was the material for a book. What I discovered was that everything which meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened, and that nothing I could do would be more important.”

Stories & principles #2
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Which actors should be responsible for the move to make towns pesticide free?

Transitioning to pesticide free towns will – if we wish to move beyond greenwashing – mean all actors in society making a joint effort, including citizens, sports associations and regions. However, it is crucial that politicians and policy makers take the lead. Only by showing the way, will others follow.

Photo © Courtesy of Martin Dermine


Throughout this document there will be a number of good examples from towns, useful guidelines, as well as demonstrations of how other stakeholders can help to ensure the needed transition to pesticide free.

You can also watch the videos from our conference to get other ideas of what is already being done across Europe.


To all political key figures in all european towns with an idea and vision about a pesticide free townlife in the near future:  

We, small, medium, and large towns and cities in Europe, have a responsibility towards our children and grandchildren concerning a hell of a lot of things. One of those things is a pesticide free world. That looks like quite a statement but in the nucleus it is one of those things we can grab as a policy and in budgets with only relatively minimal effort. 

We, the city of Haaren in the province of Brabant in the Netherlands, have proven that in the past years. We are only 14.000 people small, though our territory is quite big. We have a lot of farmers, we have a huge tree-growing industry, four small villages together form the city.

Our inhabitants live historically close to the “earth” but at the same time, for many years, no efforts at all were made to really have a plan concerning sustainability, environment and what have you.

What we have done is set ourselves a goal. A simple goal. Simple to communicate with everybody, simple to monitor. Pesticide free maintenance of all public territory: pesticide free maintenance of all our outdoor sportfacilities, greenlands etc. In other words, a pesticide free town for our people, their children and grandchildren, for now and the future. 

We have simply translated our goal into a challenge for the industry and laboratories in our town, a challenge for the users of sportfacilities, their clubmanagement and a challenge for our own local maintenance people. 

We made it perfectly clear that 1 january 2015 was the deadline and the deadline was NOT going to move, come hell or heaven. Not because WE wanted that as the city-management and politicians, but because WE wanted that as the 14.000 people living in our town.

The laboratories went to work, workgroups went to work, a lot of volunteers went to work to look at the alternatives for using pesticides through a different set of maintenance procedures, using natural means to control growth etc. 

As first in line for the political choices in this respect, I “only” had to convince people of the opportunity we had to make a real difference for the future.That was easy. I had to do that in 50 places but that was a minor thing. Something was boiling, something was growing... people started to find it a really good usefull challenge. 

I used a Peter Gabriel lyric for my speeches to make people enthusiastic for our vision.  

“you can blow out a candle but you can’t blow
out a fire; once the flames begin to catch,
the wind will blow them higher.” 

We made it happen and it happened 6 months earlier than planned.

Contact: Eric van den Dungen - - +31653144157

Stories & principles #3
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What are the steps involved in becoming a pesticide free town?

The main steps are as follows:

  • Plan the transition
  • Gather the various stakeholders together for a discussion
  • Communicate before you act
  • Make an inventory of all sites
  • Proceed one step at a time

Plan The Transition

The public administration must plan the transition by drawing up guidelines and inspirational documents for its local administrations and it must engage partners, especially the gardeners, to give technical advice throughout the transition.

Many regional and/or national governments are assisting the transition, for example:

In Flanders: 

  • The Flanders Environment Agency (VMM) has developed a campaign zonderisgezonder, encouraging good design and continous progress. 
  • The Vereniging voor openbaar groen (VVOG), a non-profit organisation, is a key in ensuring implementation as it assists municipalities in the transition to become pesticide free. They organise networking events, study visits, lectures, courses and many other activities.  
  • Inverde is an organisation that plays an important role in teaching the specifics of pesticide free management.

In Wallonia: 

  • The Service Public de Wallonie (SPW) has developed a campaign and a number of guidelines and tolerance levels in weed management.
  • The Pôle de gestion differenciée has drawn up a guide, which serves as a good source of inspiration.
  • Adalia communicates about the transition to and the challenge of becoming pesticide free to the general public by developing short films.

There is a also FEREDEC Bretagne, a guide to alternatives to chemical weedkillers in municipalities. This guide gives details including transition and communication strategies and lists the pros and cons of all varieties of weedkillers as well as their costs.


Some of Brussels parks and nature sites are managed by Brussels Environment 

Brussels Environment, the brussels regional administration, manages 2210 hectares of land, including 400 ha. of parks, 1685 ha of forests and 125 of natural reserves (Source: Report on the state of the environment, 2001). This amounts to around 80% of the parks, gardens and woods accessible to the public in the Brussels-Capital Region (2779 ha.). For the past twenty years, these areas have been managed according to a differentiated and environmentally-friendly approach so that they can be used simultaneously for social, recreational, educational, aesthetic and environmental purposes.

Many green spaces are equipped with footpaths for walkers or cyclists, sports areas, and benches where people can take a break. A more environmentally-friendly method of space management is preferred where nature can flourish without the use of pesticides. This form of management is favourable to wildflowers, natural ponds, wilder wooded areas and refuges for a range of different animals, all of which enhance biodiversity.

In some of the green areas in the city centre, this “natural” approach to management cannot be implemented. In small parks -- which are mainly used for socialising and which are very popular - and the historical parks in the city centre, which attract tourists due to their heritage, a more “horticultural” approach is adopted. A team of technicians (around 80 in total) use their expertise to avoid pesticide use. The numerous game areas managed by Brussels Environment are also pesticide free. This philosophy was adopted well before the Pesticides Regulation, which officially banned these products in and within a 10m radius of these areas, which are often frequented by vulnerable groups.

Natura 2000 sites, natural reserves and forests--which are subject to specific protection measures for nature conservation reasons--have long been managed without pesticides. This ban was formalised in the Nature Regulation of 1st March 2012 and reaffirmed in the Pesticides Regulation of 20th June 2013.

20 years of ecological management… S Kempeneers

Communicate the transistion to citizens

A number of municipalities are using their homepages to communicate to citizens about the move to become pesticide free. Among those:

  • The town of Eupen, Belgium is explaining very clearly that being pesticide free is much better for public health and the environment, and they are showing clearly that healthy alternatives to pesticides already exist. 
  • The town of Rennes, France, see the photos illustrating clearly why not to spray herbicides.
  • The City of Strasbourg, France, became pesticide free in 2008. Several tips on transitioning are available on the website.
  • Many Flemish towns (e.g. Poperinge, Knokke-heist, Assende, Kampenhout, Anzegem, Dondermonde, Evergem, Maasmechelen, Herentals, Keerbergen, Heuvelland, Londerzeel), inform citizens about the transition to become pesticide free on their homepages. A particularly interesting example is the homepage of the town of Gent where citizens are encouraged to stop using pesticides in their gardens. 
  • The city of Lens in Belgium published a detailed announcement on its website regarding the transition to become pesticide free, explaining to citizens that the increased numbers of weeds in streets was not due to abandonment but a result of a transition using no pesticides; a new approach to management of the public space. 
  • The town of Alken in Belgium explains to its citizens on the public homepage how to prepare a garden for the winter without using pesticides. 
  • A few municipalities in Denmark, such as the municipality of Alleroed, are inviting their citizens to join local campaigns to become pesticide free together and they provide courses on organic gardening to their citizens while also offering labels to gardens without using pesticides, 
  • The municipality of Hasselt has a demonstration garden project within the domain of Kiewit

Many towns are using articles in local newspapers to inform residents about the transition, for example:

  • The town of Watermaal Boosvoorde, dedicated a big part of their April 2015 newsletter to inform citizens about the move to become pesticide free; as part of that, highlighting the big value of having local gardeners.
  • The town of Bruges launched a project in 2010 making citizens aware of the fact that they are responsible for removing the weeds on their sidewalk. They have developed a flyer instructing how to do this in an environmentally friendly manner. Also, in the month of March, all the inhabitants of the city are being reminded through articles in the city magazine, which is distributed for free.
  • One mayor has been innovative and made a film documenting the transistion: “Bye Pesticides”: a documentary on eliminating the use of pesticides in the French city of Alençon.

A number of municipalities in both Denmark and the Netherlands are joining forces with the water companies to appeal to citizens to stop using pesticides. For a good example, see the video from Rien Kippen.

Part II – Preventative methods

Stories & principles #4
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What are the main methods for preventing unwanted weed growth?

Herbicides are the most commonly used pesticides in public areas. In order to become pesticide free, it is important to consider the necessity for weed removal: could spontaneous flora be allowed to develop in certain areas? Would this cause major problems in terms of aesthetics, security (slippery ground, barrier to visibility, etc.) or public health (highly allergenic pollen, plant material which irritates the skin)?



Preventative methods must be the first step before using techniques to counteract weed growth. It is essential to design, adapt, or re-adapt public and green spaces in order to reduce the establishment of wild vegetation, and to make it possible to use alternative methods for combating weeds.

The main methods used to reduce the need for weed killer are as follows:

  • Avoid hardening of the soil
  • Use proper dimension: not wider / larger than what will be used
  • Use proper location: not right angles, people walking / biking / driving is not at right angles.
  • Choose suitable surfaces and materials that limit the potential for vegetation development in areas where hard surfaces are necessary (however, be aware of the implications of impermeable surfaces and the ensuing effects in case of flooding). Particular attention should be paid to any spots where self-propagating plants could grow (in joints or gaps between pavements and walls, verges, roads, gutters etc., in the public transport networks, lampposts and road signs etc.) as well as roadwork carried out by third parties (in the water, gas, electricity, telephone, domains etc.).
  • Laying grass and turf removes or reduces the surface areas where weed removal is required, by promoting coverage by desirable plants on areas such as park footpaths, cemetery paths and car parks.
  • Use of relatively sharp-edged gravel on footpaths: as walkers use them, this will prevent unwanted weed growth.
  • Densely planted areas and use of mulch and ground-cover plants in ornamental gardens (see questions 4 and 5 for more details on these two techniques).
  • Installation of wildflower meadows. These areas will help to highlight certain strategic places (such as the border of the municipality). Make good choices for the species of plants, taking into account the rustic nature of the environment, environmental value (i.e. avoid invasive plants and prefer plants which are attractive to bees) and the aesthetic dimension. Citizen participation in planting around the foot of trees could be an added value (see question 6).
  • Differentiated maintenance of lawns/sports grounds to eliminate the need for pesticides (see question 13).
Stories & principles #5
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What kind of mulch should be used?

Mulch is a quick solution, but not a long-lasting one. It is preferable to invest in a densely-planted area or ground-cover plants.

Photo ©

If mulch needs to be applied, The following points must be analysed before choosing a suitable material:

  • The current state of the soil
  • The composition of the mulch material
  • The environmental footprint of the mulch
  • The impact of the mulch on the soil quality/structure over a period of several years. Will it encourage other kinds of weeds to grow at a later stage?
  • The best type of mulch for the area in question. A mulch variety that suits one place will not necessarily suit another, because of varying technical and environmental constraints
Stories & principles #6
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What are the best kinds of ground-cover plants?

The use of ground-cover plants means that maintenance can be reduced in difficult to access areas, such as embankments or the areas at the foot of trees and shrubs. Ground cover crops allow for better infiltration of rainwater and limit erosion by stabilising the ground, as well as being aesthetically pleasing and an addition to the landscape.

Photo ©


Before planting, take time to make a careful selection based on soil type, exposure, water availability and the desired effect, both visually and physically.

Ground-cover plants need to propagate easily without becoming invasive (there is no sense in replacing one weed with another). Exotic invasive species (e.g. Cotoneaster horizontalis) should be avoided at all costs in favour of indigenous alternatives that are suited to local conditions and promote biodiversity. Non-indigenous plants (cultivars, exotic horticultural varieties, etc.) - as long as they are not invasive and serve a purpose to local fauna (flowers, fruits, pollen, nectar, etc.) - can be used sparingly in areas at which there is an ornamental need. Large surfaces should preferably be planted with indigenous species or wildflower meadows.

Stories & principles #7
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Can wildflower meadows be planted everywhere? How do you ensure wildflower meadows will be accepted by the general public?

Wildflower meadows are populated by a mixture of annual and perennial plants, to ensure continuity and flowering for a good part of the year. These meadows are usually sown, but they can also be the result of spontaneous plant growth. This is more natural, entails fewer risks of importing invasive species or ornamental varieties with very little environmental interest, and also requires less work.

Photo © Josephat park, Schaerbeek


Wildflower meadows are often planted on large surface areas to save time when maintaining green spaces and areas along roadsides, or in small spots where weed removal is difficult, such as at the foot of trees.


To ensure that wildflower meadows are accepted, it is important to bear the following points in mind:

  • Start planting in one or two places, and ensure you communicate the reasons for doing so: biodiversity, pollinating insects (bees, butterflies), beauty of the countryside landscape etc. This information can be published on signs, posters, in local newsletters, or shared by gardeners or park caretakers (who also need to be made aware and informed) etc.
  • Select indigenous plants so that they have a real impact on the development of pollinating insect populations. Pay close attention however, as certain commercial mixes include horticultural varieties of indigenous species (e.g. cornflowers) which are no longer attractive to pollinating insects.
  • At the beginning of the process, avoid places with major restrictions, such as places where people walk frequently, or areas that are too shady, dry, or have a highly symbolic value etc. These areas can be tackled during a second wave, once the population has become familiar with the new look and planting services have sufficiently mastered the planting and management techniques.
  • Trim the edges of the wildflower meadows so that people are aware that the site is maintained and has not been abandoned. This aspect is even more important in the case of spontaneous wildflower meadows. Information signs can also be put up.
  • When sowing a meadow, choose a suitable mix, which will flourish throughout the year. Some mixes contain horticultural varieties that extend flowering times up until the first frosts (marigolds etc.) Leaving dried-up, wilted vegetation untouched for several weeks is rarely accepted.
  • Reseed or over-seed the wildflower meadow regularly to ensure it retains all of it qualities.
  • Scythe the area once or twice a year, making sure cut vegetation is removed (so that the ground does not become too enriched).

Wildflower meadows in the Josaphat Park in Schaerbeek, Belgium

In the Josaphat Park in Schaerbeek, wildflower meadows were initially sown in areas that were difficult to mow, for example on steep slopes and enclosed areas surrounded by water. Even though the wildflower meadows were planted according to natural principles, Josaphat park in Schaerbeek, was still voted Brussels’ favourite park in 2014.

It has not always been an easy process because the park’s caretaker, Zied, must ensure respect for the specific rules applicable to this historical park, enforce the pesticide free rule, manage the agronomic needs and deal with complaints from certain users. To tackle these complaints, Zied arms himself with information, both by putting up information signs and talking to users, highlighting the rustic look of the park. He reviews his management plans on an annual basis, taking into account any changes in mind-set, trying to reduce the environmental footprint as much as possible and also focussing on the wellbeing of the gardeners.

Stories & principles #8
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Which green space management policies promote the presence of bees and wild pollinating insects?

Bees, like all other pollinating insects, need a suitable habitat (decomposing wood, hollow branches, mounds of earth, rocky ground, etc.), a source of adequate nourishment (pollen and nectar from a wide variety of flowers), and an uncontaminated environment.

Photo © Natuurpunt


The number and diversity of pollinating insects has a significant impact on the biodiversity of vegetation and vice-versa, which contributes in the long term to overall biodiversity development (other insects, birds, amphibians, mammals, etc.). Pollinating insects are also crucial for food production as they participate in the reproductive process of most cultivated plants (grains, fruits, etc.).


There are several elements that can help encourage and prolong the presence of pollinating insects:

  • Flowers and vegetation in general, preferably indigenous species, establishment of wildflower meadows (see previous question), hedgerows etc.
  • Eliminating the use of complex or exotic “improved” horticultural varieties which do not (or no longer) produce nectar or pollen or whose morphology prevents insects from accessing them.
  • A diverse range of plants from different botanical families and species: to encourage butterflies, consider plants that can host caterpillars (e.g. nettles, white nettles and bittercress).
  • Extend the flowering season to ensure food resources are always available (from the very beginning of spring to the beginning of winter).
  • Make appropriate habitats available: mounds of earth, heaps of sand, piles of dead wood and fascines, tunnels (logs with holes drilled into them), bunches of hollow sticks etc.
  • Reduce noise pollution (e.g. for groups of solitary bees which nest between pavement slabs).
  • Specifications provided by the suppliers of ornamental plants clearly state that pesticides should not be used when growing these plants.
  • Careful selection of seeds not treated with fungicides.

The Dutch and French website includes an excellent summary of the actions to be taken, but also of the activities already underway at different levels (municipal, regional, etc.).


Interview with Veerle Leroy, Local Councillor in charge of green spaces, Beersel Council


What do you believe are the advantages of cutting out pesticide use in public spaces for a city or town?

There are more bees due to the presence of wildflowers, and there is less grass to mow. That’s our slogan: “more bees, less grass to mow”. It also means less garden waste to compost.

We have been working on a major bee plan, which we are now presenting in several places in Flanders. It’s a unique project.

We carried out a study in our municipality and we identified the bee species present there, which researchers then came to examine. With the results of this study we drew up a suitable management plan for all of the green spaces in the municipality.

Examples of planted areas that encourage bees in the municipality of Beersel


How did you manage to cut out pesticide use, and what was the main incentive to do so?

The main motivation was to protect the environment and life cycles, such as the water cycle, as well as public health.

The main difficulty we encountered was that of changing people’s mind-sets, as people are very conservative. We had to raise awareness. When people are informed, they can accept changes more easily. Several council workers attended a workshop in Sint Niklaas, where they’ve already made a lot of progress. This helped a great deal towards informing people.

A good communication campaign is essential to win the support of the citizens!

The next step is then to persuade citizens to do the same in their own gardens.

We are making progress, one step at a time.

Stories & principles #9
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Where can you find the right seeds and plants that will ensure adequate ground coverage and guarantee that public green spaces can still be used for other purposes?

The best option would be to produce them on site and to ensure compliance with all of the regulations governing pesticide use throughout the process.

Photo © Courtesy of Commune de Beersel

Furthermore, production by local gardeners has the following advantages:

  • Availability of suitable and acclimatised plants, starting with local seeds (self-produced or bought from local producers of local varieties).
  • Respect for the environment during the process of producing the plants and seeds that will then be used for the municipal green spaces.
  • Involvement of gardeners in the local area: gardeners who produce the plant material, which will then be planted in local green spaces, feel more involved in the move to become pesticide free. As they have contributed to the production process, they know where this material comes from.

Greenhouses in the City of Namur, Belgium

In Namur, 140,000 plants are grown in greenhouses of the public green spaces every year. Annual plants are either directly produced by the gardeners in charge of the local green spaces by sowing or taking cuttings, or bought as small seedlings which are then pricked out. Perennial varieties are sometimes bought ready to plant.

Gardeners began to use alternative methods for controlling diseases and pests in 2001. The main reason for this was staff health. Using ancillary control measures (insects which are parasites to other harmful insects) is a tricky endeavor, so more natural products were selected. For the past two years, gardeners have been using plant-based fertilisers made up of horsetail, nettles, comfrey, ferns etc. In this way, pests can be controlled and plant strength increased, making them more resistant to diseases and pests.

Source: Muriel Guyot, Environmental Advisor to the City of Namur

Ecoflora nursery in Halle, Belgium

Ecoflora is an unusual nursery, as it grows exclusively for the management teams of environmentally-friendly parks and gardens.

Our range includes around 500 species of indigenous plants, most of them perennials, and around 120 aromatic plants and traditional vegetable varieties. We also offer a range of organic bulbs for naturalizing, most of them indigenous species.

Although wild plants are our passion and speciality, we also offer a number of non-indigenous plants, which are useful additions to environmentally-friendly green spaces. We try as much as possible to use locally-produced plants.

You can count on our expertise when it comes to establishing a wildflower meadow. We have 19 years’ worth of experience in this domain. Our unique mixes, made up entirely of indigenous and wild varieties with no grasses, can adapt to a range of situations and locations.

Ecoflora is working with green departments of municipalities all over Belgium. 

Source: Olivier Gengoux, Ecoflora

La pousse qui pousse nursery in Saint-Gilles, Brussels, Belgium 

We believe in the importance of locally produced plants for green spaces for the following reasons:

Training: a small space for local production is sufficient for training gardeners in organic gardening methods. They can then use the knowledge they have acquired during their training to select, sow and finally plant out their plants.

Motivation: seeing the process from seed to planting in a public area creates a stronger bond, particularly if gardeners are involved in the process from beginning to end.

Environmentally-friendly: the plants produced are often indigenous species which can adapt to the conditions of their area, are more robust and do not require chemical products. Local and short-circuit production has a significant positive impact from an environmental point of view because there is no need to transport the plants.

Source: Filippo Dattola, La pousse que pousse

Part III – Alternatives to weedkiller and public space management

Stories & principles #10
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Is it necessary to use weedkiller?

Having assessed the situation, it will be clear that there are areas that do not require weedkiller as long as they are tended appropriately.

Photo © City of Bruges


  • A dolomite path can be replaced with a mown grass path
  • Less frequented areas can be allowed to grow before being mown once or twice a year.

This means that more time and labour resources can be dedicated to other more prestigious areas such as town hall courtyards, monuments, memorials etc. where weeding will be needed. 

While this may seem like common sense to green space managers, this may not be the perception among the general public, hence the importance of good communication (see communication section).


Pedestrians, the ‘human mowers’

Instead of obliging pedestrians to keep to paths, the managers of the Josaphat park decided to harness pedestrians’ capacity for keeping the grass in check. Consequently, they no longer need to waste time trying to keep pedestrians on the paths nor use mowers or pesticides. As Filip from the Schaerbeek park’s education unit says, ‘Our job is not to block paths, but to open them up’.

Stories & principles #11
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What are the latest developments in non-chemical weedkillers?

Different methods of weed removal can be used depending on the ground type, the size of the area and ease of access. The main methods of weed removal are mechanical (brush, mower, jet wash) and thermal (direct flame, hot air, infra-red, hot water, vapour or mousse). The latest trend is the return of the hoe and in-depth training for gardeners so that they can rapidly pinpoint weeds. The initial outlay is small and the results are increasingly promising.

The golf of Samsø (Denmark) – Photo © Thomas Friis Pihlkjær, chefgreenkeeper Samsø Golfklub 


​Research is currently being conducted to evaluate the most efficient methods and develop new ones. Methods are presented and discussed at workshops. 

The research project STERF together with the Nordic park and golf sector, universities, research institutions and authorities state on their homepage that they ‘take responsibility for ensuring that R&D activities that are important for integrated pest management (IPM) are coordinated and executed and that new knowledge is delivered’ and part of that a grass guide has recently been elaborated presenting research experiences of amenity turf for the Nordic countries made over the past 30 years. 

It focuses on recommended species for grass-covered slopes, lawns, football pitches and golf course.

Stories & principles #12
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How can invasive alien species be dealt with?

Invasive alien species are plants that grow outside of their natural distribution area to such an extent that they harm local flora.  

Photo © R Tanner, CABI , UK

Key points:

  • Avoid introducing new species and prioritise indigenous plants
  • Check soil origin and avoid importing infested soil
  • Learn to recognise invasive plants and manage them at root-level
  • Map and limit the spread

There are two main strategies for combatting invasive plants: prevention and management. Prevention consists in avoiding the introduction of new species into the environment, whereas management involves limiting the growth of certain species or eliminating them completely. Prevention is always cheaper and easier.


Eliminating giant hogweed - experience from Lyngby-Taarbaek and Copenhagen, Denmark

The town of Copenhagen decided in 2004 to stop fighting giant hogweed with herbicides. Instead they moved to a system of root cutting/root killing, 

In 2010, the Danish NGO Ecological Council, a member of PAN Europe, articulated a campaign arguing for the urgent need to prevent and fight all invasive plant species, saying ‘‘It goes without saying that the longer an invasive plant species has been allowed to spread in nature, the greater the damage to nature and the costlier it will be to eradicate it or to prevent it from spreading further. The extent of the control effort, which we leave to future generations, depends largely on when and how we get started. Experience shows that prevention is much cheaper than fight, and the fight is getting cheaper, the earlier it is implemented. Experience from the commune Lyngby-Taarbæk shows that giant hogweed can be eradicated by an effective fighting efforts, so there will no longer be a need for either monitoring or control.’

In the town of Lyngby-Taarbaek the Giant Hogweed was totally eliminated thanks to a group of volunteers working in close collaboration with the Danish NGO Ecological Council! 

The town of Copenhagen hired the Danish NGO Ecological Council to eradicate Giant Hogweed. 

Hans Nielsen, the chief of the group undertaking this job says: 

‘The Giant Hogweed has still not been eradicated from the City of Copenhagen, but almost. Initially, not all areas were included in the plan and as a result the root cutting/root killing began only a few years ago. But the development is clear: there are fewer every year and in 3-5 years it will be over.’

Keeping Giant Hoogweed under control – experience from the municipalities of Ballerup, Denmark

The municipality of Ballerup has adopted an action plan from 2010 to 2016 fighting giant hogweed by using manual and mechanical control in the form of root cutting, umbel removal, cover with plastic, gas burning and grazing.

Volunteer groups joined with the municipality to combat occurrences of hogweed on municipal land in their communities. At present, there are five groups established with about 2-7 people in each group. The municipality provide tools (spades and gloves) and arranges a kick-off meeting and an end-of-season meeting to talk about the action plan, new control methods, and problems faced in the current season or those that have arisen during the season in connection with fight. The municipality also offers lunch or dinner when open days are being arranged.

Eliminating Japanese Knotweed in the Scheutbos nature reserve, Belgium

Volunteers manually removed new Japanese knotweed growth twice a week between March and October. After two years, new growth was almost eliminated in the treated areas, leaving more room for indigenous vegetation (brambles, horsetail, avens, fireweed, ivy, oaks, etc.).


Other ways of managing invasive alien species: 

  • An example from Washington, goats were used to combat Japanese knotweed, which had initially been introduced for feed.  

The setting up of a sponsorship system for areas infested by an invasive plant species. 

  • Ideas on how to start mapping the establishment and the spread of invasive alien species:
  • Many Danish towns use the Danish Road Directorate, which is already driving around the country managing roads, to map the invasive alien species. or created by the NGOs Natagora (Fr) and Natuurpunt (Vl)

The website is a participative tool in which people can encode their observations in general (insects, birds, mammals, plants, etc.). A warning system is implemented regarding the Invasive Alien Species; public managers can subscribe to the system and automatically receive an early alert when a species of concern is observed in their areas.

Stories & principles #13
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What are the best environmentally-friendly techniques for managing unwanted weed growth in cemeteries?

Cemetery management is a delicate issue due to the symbolism and emotions attached to such locations. Weeds are often initially thought of as a sign of neglect on the part of the management or even desecration. However, the structured, harmonious and diversified introduction of flora has brought about a change in perception. Good communication is of prime importance during the transitional period (see question 17), in order to move to a cemetery management style akin to that of a nature reserve. Environmentally-friendly cemetery management enables more green spaces to flourish in urban areas and constitutes a key component of the green urban landscape.

Assistens kirkegaarden Copenhagen (Denmark), Photo © Wikipedia


Belgium’s push for more environmentally-friendly cemetery management has reached the stage where a few rare species are reappearing and there are a growing number of cemeteries which are managed like nature reserves.


Here are a number of key points for cemetery management with the intention of minimising weeds:

  • Minimise mineral areas and seal the soil to facilitate maintenance.  
  • Choose products and tools that enable the cemetery to blend in with its surroundings. Use locally-sourced products which have not been chemically treated.
  • Add grass to paths.
  • Plant ground cover in areas which are difficult to access, e.g. between tombstones, next to walls, steep gradients, etc.
  • Repair joints to limit weed growth (e.g. gutter joints, joins between tombstones).

Namur cemetery

Emotions often run high in cemeteries and so any aesthetic shortcomings are even more noticeable. The best way to manage the situation is to inform the general public well in advance of proposed changes. The introduction of green areas in cemeteries should be announced on highly visible information signs. Careful maintenance of green cemeteries is also necessary, including regular mowing of flowered areas for example. Three cemeteries have been awarded a “nature cemetery” label by the Walloon Region.

The Uccle cemeteries

Uccle was the first Brussels municipality to implement environmentally-friendly management plans for the cemeteries in Dieweg (2011) and Verrewinkel (2009). These areas of 3.24 and 10.44 hectares respectively are key spots in the green network for the south of Brussels. A diverse range of animal and plant species, including some very rare species, have taken refuge there, which is why it is important to protect them via sustainable and well thought-out management plans. As part of Agenda 21, several actions were carried out: pesticides and herbicides were banned on site, Japanese knotweed is regularly removed, staff are trained in environmentally-friendly management techniques, a rotation system was introduced for land area maintenance, later and sustained scything activities, planting of “ground-cover” plants, the creation of infiltration wells for rainwater, etc.

Assistens kirkegaarden, Nørrebro district, Copenhagen

(In the early 1800s) ‘Excursions to the cemetery with picnic baskets and tea became a popular activity among common citizens of Copenhagen. In his account of a visit to Copenhagen in 1827, the Swedish poet Karl August Nicander fondly remembers Assistens Cemetery: In order to enjoy another softer, quieter celebration, I walked out one evening through Nørre Port (the North Gate) to the so-called Assistens Cemetery. It is certainly one of the most beautiful graveyards in Europe. Leafy trees, dark paths, bright open flowery expanses, temples shaded by poplars, marble tombs overhung by weeping willows, and urns or crosses wrapped in swathes of roses, fragrance and bird song, all transform this place of death into a little paradise.

Today, the cemetery is still serving its original purpose as a burial ground but is also a popular tourist attraction, as well as the largest and most important greenspace in the inner part of the Nørrebro district.’

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What are the best environmentally-friendly techniques for managing unwanted weed growth between paving stones/slabs?

Photo © Flanders Environment Agency (VMM)

These have to be divided into two categories:

Sealed slabs/paving stones

These are Flagstones, paving slabs or stones with cement joints and sometimes used on walkways or at the foot of street furniture (such as benches, signs and bins). If the joints are damaged, unwanted weeds can grow in them. At this point, the best solution is to repair the joints.


Unjoined slabs/paving stones (drainage slabs, flowered pavements)

These might be installed in order to mark out access routes or car parks. Running a mower over them is usually enough to keep them maintained, assuming there is enough space to do so. In areas that are more difficult to access, different weed removal methods can be used, such as brushing or thermal weed removal.

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What are the best environmentally-friendly techniques for maintaining sports grounds?

There are numerous sports grounds and it would be a shame to see these places of recreation become places that cause illnesses due to pesticide use. An even more important consideration is that these grounds are regularly frequented by vulnerable groups (such as children).

Photo © Flanders Environment Agency (VMM)


There is still a lot to learn about how to manage sportfields in the future. First is probably to start asking the actual users what they expect and then work from there.

Inert grounds (bowling greens, tennis lawns, athletics tracks, etc.) are usually maintained through usage. Sometimes, weeds may need to be removed from waterproofed surfaces with thermal equipment, high pressure jets or sweepers.

The biggest problem is grassy sports grounds. Sport is constantly at odds with agronomic and horticultural logic. It is a major challenge for technical teams to find a solution.


Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask users what kind of needs they have, and work from them
  • Choose grasses that suit the soil and climate
  • Choose grass varieties that provide good coverage
  • Don’t mow too short
  • Aerate the ground: beat, scarify
  • Ensure the appropriate water content of the ground is maintained
  • Overseed regularly
  • Restock rapidly with suitable turf
  • Train coaches to avoid harmful practices.

How private companies are also contributing in the move to become pesticide free, Naxhelet Golf Club

In the Golf Club of Naxhelet, we try to be pesticide free. At this point, the greens have not received any pesticides for more than two years. It’s a very big challenge and the most difficult point on a golf course. All the problems of disease must be fixed by nature and auto-immunity. The only pesticide we still use very locally is a selective herbicide, mainly against thistles, because the course is a new building and we have to stop the propagation. The purpose is to stop everything in the next 2 years.

Frédéric Cahay, agronomist and chief Green keeper, Naxhelet Golf Club, Wanze, Belgium

How certain sport fields are integrating nature into their management considerations

As a contribution to the Danish objective of making Danish golf courses pesticide free, an environmental prize was established in 2014 as a collaboration between the Union of Danish Golf, Danish Greenkeepers Association, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, Danish Nature Conservation, Danish Outdoor Council, Danish ways of Sport.

In 2015 the Danish environmental prize for Golf courses was given to Samsø Golf Club 

Why they got it was rather obvious.

‘On the island of Samsø, the local golf club’s use of pesticides has been replaced with use of seaweed, chicken manure and sheep who take care of the mowing. 

At the same time the traditional irrigation system used on the majority of golf couses has, on Samso, been replaced by a sustainable pumping system powered by solar energy.  

We let nature come in and be a partner rather than an opponent. We cannot continue to shape nature as we will. We would rather let nature come in and help us;’

Thomas Friis Pihlkjær,  chefgreenkeeper Samsø Golfklub 

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Could artifical turf be a good solution for the pesticide free approach?

The answer to this question is far from clear and requires a deeper analysis:

  • The purchase price for artificial turf is much higher, but the maintenance costs are much lower; especially when the ground is used intensively.
  • The use of artificial turf can be a lot more intensive than natural grass, so it is important to consider usage rates and factor these into financial calculations.
  • The use of artificial turf is less affected by weather conditions.
  • Natural turf contributes towards biodiversity; it captures C02 and produces oxygen.
  • Contrary to popular thought, artificial turf needs to be maintained regularly, by professionals, and chemical products are often used (anti-foaming and/or anti-algae biocides) to ensure longevity.
  • The true environmental footprint of artificial turf compared to natural turf is still a controversial subject, particularly with regard to its lifespan.
  • The sensation for sportsmen can vary depending on the type of terrain. (Those artificial grounds may cause some articular problems when regularly used).

According to several experts, using both is the ideal solution: artificial turf for training and natural turf for pleasure and high quality sports games. However, the two types of ground must be maintained in completely different ways.

Part IV – Communication and awareness-raising

Each of us has the right to a healthy environment, free from pesticides. At the same time, each of us is responsible for the health and beauty of the landscapes that surround us. Every day, for instance, we choose what to eat, together we decide how our food is grown and whether it is treated with pesticides.

As citizens we can act individually and collectively to ensure that the environment in which we live is healthy, pleasant. Urban community and family gardens are among the finest examples of spaces reconverted to conviviality.

It is crucial that municipalities open up for dialogue with citizens, so as to find common solutions for pesticide free towns, where biodiversity and conviviality are pursued for the wellbeing of the whole community. Only then we will have dynamic and thriving cities.

Carlo Petrini, President of Slow Food, international non-profit grassroots association active in over 160 countries

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How can we communicate about the transition to become pesticide free?

The general public, i.e. citizens, need to be informed from the outset about the transition to pesticide free management and the effects of this transition. Failing to do this could result in public rejection, which could compromise the plans of local authorities to cut out pesticide use in public areas. In addition, residents of local areas need to be informed about their duties with regard to management of public spaces for which they are responsible, notably pavements.

Park in Olat (Spain), a green meeting point. Photo © Eddy Zijlstra

Essential points for ensuring effective communication

  • Draw up a specific communication plan for each place (cemetery, roadsides, parks) to explain the process and future changes. Make sure this is in place sufficiently in advance of implementation.
  • Communicate the reasons for the process: environment, quality of life etc.
  • Clearly identify the target groups and adapt your messages accordingly.
  • Be creative and use a variety of media (signs, posters, flyers, newsletters, a stand at the local market, etc.).
  • Involve all of the stakeholders in the commune, including land management workers.
  • Appoint a contact person for any questions, complaints etc. (i.e. an Environmental Advisor).
  • Demonstrate that this works on the ground by carrying out pilot projects that people can visit. Hold awareness-raising sessions.
  • Mistakes to avoid: Communicating after the fact, in a reactive manner, when it is a fait accompli, generally after receiving complaints from the public.

Both Wallonia and Flanders are proposing awareness-raising campaigns. 

The township of Accetaflore, France examined citizen’s perceptions of wildflower growth in the city, assisting managers to put pesticide reduction policies in place by publishing a number of instruction sheets on communication.


NGOs are helping in the move to become pesticide free

The Flemish NGO Velt has a range of services for citizens and its website contains a wealth of advice for gardening without using pesticides. They can also answer any questions citizens may have regarding pesticide free land management.

Velt recently started a campaign to ban the sale of pesticides to private persons 

Such an approach is crucial in the effort to truly become pesticide free…

“Nature-network” label

logoNatagora has developed material informing citizens about alternatives to pesticides through a number of guidelines.

Natagora also uses a “nature-network” label. This can be awarded to public spaces that respect a charter of five compulsory points, including that of not using chemical pesticides. Areas that respect this charter are awarded the label, which is displayed visibly as a communication and awareness-raising tool for passers-by.

A cycle of conferences on pesticide free public spaces was organised in Brussels by the NGO Apis Bruoc Sella, with the support of Brussels Environment, focussing on topics like communication and targeted at the 19 municipalities of Brussels.  

NGOs can also be helpful in illustrating the steps that must be taken to ensure a successful greening project.

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How can we get citizens involved?

Citizens must be not only informed, but also involved. They too have a role to play, not only when it comes to raising awareness about pesticide use, but also because they are responsible for keeping the pavements clean.

Volunteers managing invasive alien species (Denmark), Photo © Commune of Furesø

Citizen involvement in greening a city

A sure-fire way of making sure wild plant growth will be tolerated is to allow citizens to plant at the bottoms of walls, at the foot of trees and on currently bare areas. Through a new outlook, green space can be better appropriated and part of the workload shared.

  • Towns encourage citizens to grow plants around street trees. 
  • The “neighbourhood tree project” allows residents to adopt the area at the foot of a tree and plant whatever they like. People who have no garden can therefore manage their own little piece of land. That creates a stronger bond with a pesticide free and greener city. 
  • Town encourage citizens to engage in “verdissons nos murs” or “Let’s green our walls” projects.
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How should public authorities respond to complaints from citizens?

Responses to complaints can be a useful tool for involving citizens, by informing them about the issues and giving them an active role. Appointing a contact person in the organization, who is trained and involved in the project, is often helpful when seeking to resolve problems.

Team of gardeners in Watermael Boitfort (Belgium), Photo © Commune of Watermael Boitfort

Council workers must be involved in the project 

And be trained to deal with any verbal complaints they may receive during their work. In this way, they can become ambassadors for the local area’s pesticide free policy.

Sometimes, complaints from citizens can highlight problems on the ground of which council staff are unaware. In these cases, measures can be taken to resolve the issues. However, most complaints arise due to a general lack of awareness of the project. Good communication upstream of the process is therefore essential.

Complaints must not fall on deaf ears. Each complaint must be answered and, if necessary, analysed in order to fine-tune the work of green space managers. However, they must not be allowed to hinder the transition to being pesticide free.

Keep in mind that any new activity, whatever its nature, is bound to generate complaints: the unhappy few often shout the loudest. It would be a pity to halt a process, which aims to improve living conditions for all, for the sake of a handful of people.

How can we encourage gardeners in charge of green spaces to adopt the pesticide free approach? Is it useful to train them?

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How can we promote the pesticide free approach among departments which manage green spaces?

Depending on the municipality, the responsibility for green space management could be the prerogative of the department for the environment, public works, green spaces, roadsides, civil society etc. It may be necessary to reorganise these departments, hold regular meetings and adjust departmental roles to ensure smooth coordination.

Apple orchard Parc Solvay (Belgium), Photo © Brussels Envionment (IBGE)


The majority of Belgian towns are already making sure that the various different management teams communicate, are in regular contact and work together with the same objectives in mind.

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How can we encourage gardeners in charge of green spaces to adopt the pesticide free approach? Do they need to be trained?

Both policy-makers and gardeners need to understand that their roles have changed and evolved. Gardeners will need to acquire new technical skills in accordance with their tasks of maintaining public spaces without using pesticides.

Photo © Commune de Beersel


It will be necessary to explain in detail that the pesticide free approach is not a step backwards, and that the acquisition of new skills offers an opportunity for development. Some gardeners who have previously specialised in flora may think that their knowhow is being undervalued. However, this knowledge base can be used as a springboard for learning more about botany, whereby gardeners will be able to recognize useful and/or problem plants on site and quickly tackle the root of the problem. It is an opportunity for gardeners to learn new skills such as scything. Although some will lament the elimination of sprays, others will be glad to be able to work in peace without the need for a mask or protective equipment.

Rather than merely following instructions, gardeners must be fully integrated from the beginning in the transition process towards a pesticide free municipality. Their grassroots skills and knowledge must be appreciated and incorporated into the new plans. 

It is also important to engage workers by organising training sessions, visits to pesticide free towns nearby, exchanges with other gardeners etc.

Take a look at PAN Europe’s map to find an inspiring town near you, and contact us for help and assistance if needed.

Part V – The cost issue

Integrate unusual collaborations / technical assistance in the move towards making towns pesticide free:

“FREDON Alsace, a professional agricultural trade union, is setting an example in the field of awareness-raising in the municipalities of Alsace and supporting these towns in the move to become pesticide free. Since the beginning of the transition to zero phyto products, farmers in the Alsace region have been supporting cities and villages in the process. The main aim of the farmers was, and still is, to reduce pesticide use at the global level. They made their expertise, acquired through the practice of reasoned growing techniques only using pesticides as a last resort, available to the local authorities. Thanks to this partnership between farmers and cities/towns, in the move to become pesticide free, jobs have been created with the assistance of the water authorities and the Alsace region. Farmers have always been, and remain, a key driving force in the process, because they believe in it.”

Philippe Rothgerber, producer of organic apples and fruit juices based in Alsace, and board member for FREDON Alsace

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Does a pesticide free approach lead to higher maintenance expenditure?

When talking about the costs of using alternatives to pesticides it should always be remembered that:

Using pesticides also comes with a cost

  • Studies in the US estimated $12 billion in environmental, biodiversity losses, and societal damages (David Pimentel (2009); Environmental and economic costs of the application of pesticides primarily in the United States).
  • Studies in the UK and Germany have conservatively estimated annual external costs of pesticides use to be US$257million and $166 million, respectively, paid by sufferers of pesticide-induced poor health, by the environment and by citizens (Pretty & Waibel (2005), Paying the price: the full cost of pesticides. The pesticide detox. Earthscan, London). 
  • A French study estimates the overall costs of water pollution from nitrogen and pesticides to be 1.5 billion Euros in France.

Both the Flemish and the Germans have been asking towns about potential extra costs linked to the move to become pesticide free 

Both inquiries have been focused on the shorter-run changes which means investing in new knowledge and training while buying new machineries.

The German inquiry made by the NGO BUND from 2015 concludes that using pesticides often turns out to be cheaper than employing alternative methods, with the latter entailing higher staff and increased machine costs, among others;

  • The municipality of Bielefeld acquired a Wave hot water device and calculated a cost of €0.07 per m2.
  • The municipality of Recklinghausen calculated a cost of €0.11-€0.13 per m2 for its Wave device. 
  • The municipality of Münster purchased in 2012 an Ecoflame hot air drum, a device that can be attached to a tractor. While the machine costed €25,000 the cost per m2 was lower than for any alternative method.
  • The Municipality of Göttingen undertook comprehensive conversion measures to reduce maintenance costs, with emphasis placed on orderly appearance and extensive environmental diversity, and as a result was able to reduce costs through appropriate planting.

The Flemish inquiry done by the Inter-municipal Development Agency for the Kempen area, Flanders, Belgium (IOK) in 2011 looked into whether or not pesticide free management entails extra work, municipalities argued:

  • For pavement maintenance, responses varied from 0% to 500% extra work. 
  • For green areas, the workload varied between 25% less or 0% difference in workload, to 100% extra work.

Transitioning to pesticide free is a matter of changing management and planting methods, and over time certain investments can yield rewards

The question of how and when to get organised is important. The key to achieve cost equivalence depends on when to get started, and while it comes to management of invasive alien species cost levels are seriously reduced when interventions start early.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the front running towns have taken time to identify new technologies and to test them. By spreading this experience to others, the sale of the alternative techniques might lower, and prices might be further reduced in the future. 

So our advice is, see the potential temporary costs as an investment for the future, consider more periannual, new working methods etc, and do it all step wise, our planet needs it.

PAN Europe will help spread knowledge of new technologies and rediscover already existing ones in the move to make towns pesticide free. We have, therefore, developed a European homepage highlighting pioneers across Europe (link) and lessons learned.

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Pesticides are being considered the most economic option in the short term while the longer-term health and environmental consequences are ignored. The sustainable way forward is not for towns to eliminate pesticides simply by replacing them with alternative (biological or mechanical) methods for removing weeds. What we really need is a thorough overhaul of our way of viewing the environment, so that changes will be accepted (flowering cemeteries, pavements with wildflowers, etc.).

The example set by the authorities will be a crucial tool to help everyone- from citizens to farmers- become aware of the urgent need to manage our planet in a responsible and reasonable way.


For further information: 

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Trailer: or


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Turf laying:
Flower meadows:
Lawns/sports grounds:
Guide to pesticide free design:


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List of ground-cover plants:


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Suppliers of wildflower seed mixes (p.26):


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Examples from France: and


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Zonder is gezonder:


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