Council’s decision to spray weedkiller on Hoylake Beach called ‘the dumbest act of environmental vandalism’

Conservationists have attacked Wirral Council's choice to use contentious herbicide glyphosate to manage the grass on Hoylake Beach.

Controversy has erupted over Wirral Council’s decision to spray chemicals on the grass at Hoylake beach, leading the local authority to look for alternative control methods for the future.

In a bid to manage the spartina and pucinella grasses that grow in the area, the council closed the beach for three days, from August 7 to 9, and treated it with contentious weedkiller glyphosate.

Although this an annual operation done in agreement with Natural England, it caused a backlash, with marine biologists warning that glyphosate could harm both the seals off the Hoylake coast and the Natterjack toads that live at a nearby Site of Special Scientific Interest.

A spokesman for the local branch of British Divers Marine Life Rescue told The Daily Telegraph: ‘We don’t condone any chemicals getting sprayed on a beach, definitely so close to seals. Particularly with the weather we are having at the moment, there is no way the chemical didn’t end up in the sea.’

Many high-profile figures, from swimmer and oceans campaigner Lewis Pugh to entrepreneur Deborah Meaden and Jonathan Hughes, chief executive of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, also attacked the council’s decision, with Mr Hughes thundering: ‘Spraying herbicide on beach plants is the dumbest act of environmental vandalism I’ve seen in many a year.’

However, several local groups support grass control saying that makes it easier to access and enjoy the beach (although some people objected to the council’s timing, at the height of the holiday season).

On their Facebook page, for example, Friends of Hoylake and West Kirby beaches, reporting on a late July meeting about Hoylake’s future, stated that out of a hall full of people, ‘all but a handful’ were in favour of clearing the beach of grass. ‘A number of attendees voiced their strong objection to the failure of the Council to clear the beach of grass with some describing the current state of the beach as “a disgrace”.’

Responding to the uproar, Wirral Council issued a statement in which it committed to looking for different methods of controlling the grasses. ‘We acknowledge there are strong and compelling views on both sides of the debate as to whether it is right to control the growth of spartina and other beach grasses in this location and these concerns are reflected in the actions we take.

‘Wirral Council recently voted to phase out the spraying of glyphosate in the borough, immediately after we have identified a suitable effective alternative.

‘In the specific case of Hoylake beach, we have had an agreement in recent years with Natural England to manage the issue of spartina grass. That agreement allowed for the grass to be sprayed once during the summer months in a controlled manner.

‘However, we are already trialling alternatives as we move towards ending the use of spraying as set out by the Council vote and this should be the last summer that the beach is routinely treated in this way.’