It’s a JUNGLE out there! How nature has reclaimed the streets of Brighton after woke council’s ‘rewilding’ plan
Some of the them stand up to five feet tall and completely block pathways used by children to get to school.
The weeds stray across pathways and pavements, climb lamp posts and signs and leave the elderly and disabled fearful of leaving their homes without a car.
Brighton has become the perfect example of how quickly nature reclaims the street if weeds are left unchecked.
But the ‘rewilding’ of the seaside city has become a hot issue and almost everyone has opinion.
Visitors say the weed infestation is making the normally dapper Regency resort look very down-at-heel and councillors say their email in-boxes are full with angry complaints.
The cause of the weed problem is the banning – by the Green-led council in 2019 – of glyphosate and other herbicides in the city.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in many of the weed killers on sale in Britain and it has been claimed is a potential cause of cancer.
The local authority has blamed a number of factors including Brexit for the infestation saying it has affected the recruiting staff and ordering equipment.
But Brighton & Hove City Council caused fury earlier this year when it asked residents to work unpaid to weed pavements, kerbs and paths near their homes.
The Weed Warriors initiative was met with derision by many who felt the local authority had run out of ideas.
The council boasted: ‘We hope the scheme provides an opportunity for residents to gain new skills, be more active, get out and about in the city and find new places to explore. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet new people who are all as passionate as you about looking after our beautiful city.’
But Michael Elliott, 70, a retired accountant in Hove, said: ‘We pay nearly £3,000 Council Tax a year for services in this city. The bin collection is atrocious and now the council is asking us to weed our own roads. It’s just a joke!’
And Laura King said: ‘Are they joking? It’s absolute madness to expect residents to go out and start doing jobs the council is legally obliged to provide – especially when this is covered by the council tax.’
Cllr Anne Meadows, Conservative councillor for Westdene and Hove Park, said: ‘It’s not a joke. People are getting injured. I’ve seen young children on their scooters falling off and ending up in tears because of weeds on the pavements.
‘Rewilding is all well and good but it should be limited to where it is appropriate such as nature trails and parks.’
She said the lack of action was also a danger to road users as many can’t see past large clumps of weeds when turning out of road junctions.
The Greens were ousted from office in the May election and residents are now looking at the Labour-led council to come up with a plan.
Anna Fox, 42, a nurse, said: ‘I understand the banning of dangerous herbicides but if you are going to take that step you have to have a plan on how to deal with the weeds that will flourish. It’s not good enough.’
The council has invested in new measures including mechanical sweepers, weed rippers and specialist strimmers in a bid to curb the problem but residents say there aren’t enough machines or workers.
In 2021-22 at least eight elderly people were hospitalised with injuries due to falls caused by overgrown weeds.
One resident, who prefers not to be named, said his 88-year-old father tripped on ivy growing across a pathway in Hove and broke his knee in June.
He said: ‘He’s always gone out for a walk and stayed very active and never had a fall so this was really unexpected. When he told me he tripped over ivy on the path I was furious. It’s totally unnecessary.
‘My father was treated but he’s still suffering a lot of pain with it and is now using crutches or a wheelchair. He’s really lost his confidence. It could cost him his independence.’
Another victim was Professor Dame Lesley Fallowfield, of Brighton & Sussex Medical School, who ended up in A&E after tripping on weeds outside the home she has lived in for 30 years.
She injured her foot badly spent six weeks wearing an orthopaedic boot and getting round on crutches.
There has also been a rise in pets getting grass seeds stuck in ears and paws leading to costly vets bills.
Cllr Ivan Lyons, a Conservative councillor, said the local authority had adopted a green, amber and red traffic light system which meant it only acted where the situation had become extreme.
He said: ‘It’s shocking. The place looks like a complete pig sty, people are tripping and getting injured and the council simply doesn’t have a coherent policy to deal with the problem.
‘It’s discriminates against the elderly and the less abled who have a right to expect public thoroughfares to be cleared of dangerous obstructions.’
He added: ‘Every week my in-box is full of complaints about the weeds, not just from residents but from visitors to our city.’
Many people are so sick of the state of their streets that they have resorted to weeding the pavements themselves – but the irony is many are using harmful weedkillers and herbicides to do so.
Cllr Lyons said: ‘You couldn’t make it up. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Can you believe that?’
With Britain basking in an Indian summer residents say the weeds are likely to continue growing at an alarming rate for a few more weeks yet.
Sheena Cameron, 67, a retired civil servant who lives in Hove, has been left so frustrated by the lack of action she has armed herself with a pair of secateurs started weeding around her home and taking the foliage to the tip.
She said: ‘I agree with the herbicide ban but there should have been a strategy put in place to deal with the resultant weed growth. It’s all very short-sighted.’
‘It’s not right,’ she said. ‘We pay our council tax and the problem should be sorted out but I’d rather not see money diverted away from social care and other more deserving needs.’
Pensioner John, 69, of Brighton, said: ‘It’s about time the Labour-led council grasped the nettle – no pun intended – and sort this out once and for all.’
In a statement Councillor Tim Rowkins, said getting the weeds under control in Brighton and Hove was a top priority.
‘The ban on glyphosate in 2019 emerged from a cross party consensus when the Council was under no overall political control. While well-intentioned – to reduce the use of chemicals and enhance biodiversity – there was no proper contingency plan, and the issue has simply not been treated as a priority since.’
he said the new mechanical sweepers, weed rippers and strippers are being used alongside a hot water removal system from Finland not currently being used in the UK.
He added: ‘We are currently working on a new weed management policy with a view to deploying resources much more effectively, as well as identifying any additional needs and preventative measures we can take early in the spring when weeds take root.
‘Our priority is to ensure our streets, pavements and environment are safe and accessible for residents and to limit damage to highway infrastructure, while also welcoming the net gains for biodiversity that come from a reduction in the use of herbicides.’