Sheffield’s bee-felling scandal
Has the council’s contract with Amey backed it into yet another corner?
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to the Thursday Tribune.
It’s not every day that you climb the grand staircase of Sheffield Town Hall and pass a giant bee walking the other way. I had this rare privilege on Wednesday thanks to the Sheffield branch of Extinction Rebellion, who were there to protest the council’s continued use of the weedkiller glyphosate, which has been shown to harm wild bee colonies. The council’s defence is that not using glyphosate would cost it £150million — at least according to its infamous contractor Amey.
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🛍️ An app that rewards people with shopping vouchers for not using their car is now being rolled out across Sheffield. The BetterPoints Sheffield app tracks journeys made on foot, by bike or with public transport and rewards them with points, which can be exchanged for vouchers at participating stores. A four-year pilot for the scheme was conducted at Sheffield University and reportedly led to more than a quarter of staff choosing to walk or cycle to work.
🏡 Sheffield Council is testing out an eco-friendly way to house the homeless by installing six “net-zero modular pods” in Woodseats. The cabin-like homes are intended to act as temporary housing, with the goal of seeing residents “successfully move on” in two to three years. The pods are well-insulated and entirely electric — with heat pumps and solar panels — to reduce the impact on the environment and make them cheaper to run.
🐕 South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner has weighed in on the debate surrounding American bully XL dogs, after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to ban the breed before the end of this year. Responding to those who argue the blame for attacks lies with inadequate owners, Dr Alan Billings said the proportion of dog incidents in South Yorkshire involving XL bullies proves “it cannot just be about poor dog training”. If you own an XL bully — or have been on the receiving end of an aggressive dog — get in touch by emailing email@example.com.
Things to do
🃏 On Friday night, Sheffield’s “longest-running free comedy night” has a show at Toolmakers Brewery, starting at 7pm. (This is not an especially high bar, given the night started in 2020.) Proceeds will go towards Alder Hey Childrens’ Hospital. Book your seat here.
👐 This year’s Yorkshire Integration Festival takes place on Saturday at Peace Gardens and the Winter Garden, to celebrate the region’s refugee communities. Organised by Migration Yorkshire, the event will last from 11am until 6pm and feature music, food, performances and more. See details on their website here.
💃 On Saturday afternoon, at 1pm, you can enjoy a free tango class in a venue with fantastic acoustics: Sheffield Cathedral. The taster session will be followed by a special “Cambalache Milonga” — or tango dance party — in the evening. In case you were worried about space, the pews will be temporarily moved out of the way.
Sheffield’s bee-felling scandal
By Victoria Munro
“We are currently experiencing the sixth mass extinction of species [in world history], and insects are taking the biggest hit,” says Izzy Price. She is resplendent in a stripy shirt, two fuzzy antennae attached to a headband, and a paper crown, presumably to indicate she is not simply a worker bee, but the queen. We’re not at a fancy dress party or a parade — she’s in the main council chamber at Sheffield Town Hall, agitating for change.
For at least four years, Sheffield Council has been assuring residents it will reduce its reliance on the weedkiller glyphosate. It’s a chemical in danger of being banned in the EU and which has been shown to damage wild bee colonies, disrupting their ability to regulate the temperature of their hives. There are other concerns, including a possible risk to human health, although the evidence for this is far less conclusive.
In 2021, more than 6,500 Sheffield residents signed a petition calling for the council to stop using glyphosate entirely — a proposal that received support from all three main parties. Cllr Joe Otten from the Liberal Democrats was one of those who spoke up, telling the council chamber “it was now time” to end the chemical’s use and start testing safe alternatives.
This week, Cllr Otten, as chair of the Waste & Street Scene Policy Committee, had to answer to a hive of costumed protestors from Extinction Rebellion Sheffield, who wanted to know why glyphosate is still being sprayed on the city’s streets. In the last 20 years, the number of flying insects in the UK has fallen by close to two thirds. “The first thing to do to reverse this trend is to stop poisoning them with herbicides, insecticides and pesticides,” Izzy tells the chamber.
The council is keen to point out that it has cut down: it is now mostly using glyphosate on hard surfaces like pavements, which it hopes will minimise the effect on wildlife. But, beyond a vague commitment to continue to reduce, its plans for the future are murky. Glyphosate is still authorised for use in England until December 2025, when the government will have the opportunity to either extend or end its authorisation, and Sheffield Council is clearly waiting to see what it decides.
But why, protestors ask, should a Labour-run council look to a Conservative government to lead the way? David Wain, one of the council’s environmental officers, summed up the real reason Sheffield is holding its breath for a change in the law. It would, he told the council chamber, “put the council in a more advantageous position” in negotiations with the company responsible for spraying glyphosate on the city’s streets: Amey. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because they are the same council contractor which was embroiled in the infamous tree-felling scandal.