controlling spartina 2

May 2013; After spraying, wind blown sand quickly accretes around 'hummocks' of ‘dead’ Spartina. Within two years, the grass was back. © HVL
May 2013; After spraying, wind blown sand quickly accretes around 'hummocks' of ‘dead’ Spartina. Within two years, the grass was back. © HVL

Whilst herbicide control appears to be the most effective method, it is also true that Spartina has consistently returned after each annual spraying. It is also a controversial control method, perhaps as a result of growing environmental awareness and inevitable concerns about the application of chemicals in the environment.

It should be noted that the EU classification of glyphosate (Roundup) is “R51/53 Toxic to aquatic organisms, may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment”1, whereas Monsanto’s own description is “Roundup is non-residual and does not harm animals, birds, fish, insects and other wildlife.”2

This apparent contradiction is because the EU classification refers to known toxicity whereas Monsanto’s description would appear to refer more to risk; and it is the risk level in a particular environment, not its toxicity, that determines whether it will be licensed for use.

For example, adverse impacts of Roundup B on invertebrates at Lindisfarne came to light in 1989, and its license for use in intertidal areas was withdrawn in 1994 3. A 2005 study found at concentrations one-third of the maximum concentrations expected in nature, Roundup still killed up to 71 percent of tadpoles raised in outdoor tanks. 4

Environmental and consumer rights campaigners brought a case against Monsanto in France in 2001 for presenting Roundup as biodegradable, claiming that it left the soil clean after use. In January 2007, Monsanto was found guilty of false advertising.5

The safety of glyphosate – widely used commercially, privately and by local authorities – has been under mounting scrutiny since 2015, when a scientific body of the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that it is “probably carcinogenic” to humans. 6

However, many other studies disagreed and some question the integrity of that report. 7

Indeed, in November 2017, the European Commission granted a five-year extension on the use of glyphosate in the EU amid fierce arguments between member states.8


But it remains contentious. French President Emmanuel Macron said immediately after the decision that he had asked the French government to ban the product within three years. In January 2019, a French court banned the sale of Roundup.9 These concerns inevitably give rise to a number of questions.

Given the adverse impact on invertebrates at Lindisfarne that led to the halting of the use of Roundup, it seems wise that any future Roundup use at Hoylake should be dependent on clear evidence that there is no impact on invertebrate populations? If not, how will we know for sure that there is no impact here? Why were these tests never conducted at Hoylake?

Alternative, non-toxic herbicides have been tested, in the hope they may have broader public support, but have proven to be ineffective and even more costly.

Would an emerging, managed dune system be more attractive than the current beach, providing a home for native fauna and flora? Remember that in 1999 alone, more than 70,000 cubic metres of sand accreted on the foreshore.

This vast resource could be feeding a valuable ‘soft’ coastal defence, reducing wave energy in storms, better protecting roads and private property. Can we be more creative and work with nature?


  3. English Nature: Spartina anglica: a review of its status, dynamics and management, 2004 (p40)