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Ullapool parents and campaigners still awaiting conclusive answers over school weedkiller mystery

By Iona M.J. MacDonald

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Campaigner Ailsa McLellan says answers are essential.
Campaigner Ailsa McLellan says answers are essential.

OUTRAGED Wester Ross parents say they are still awaiting conclusive answers to concerns over the use within school grounds of a banned weedkiller.

The reported use of glyphosate in Ullapool Primary School's playground stirred a horrified response from parents and environmental campaigners.

Concerns were first raised about the chemical, which has been linked to cancer, being sprayed in the playground over two months ago.

Highland Council said that after an investigation into the incident it was discovered "the weedkiller was not carried out by any Amenities and Facilities Management staff".

However conflicting accounts have been given with a senior official saying that an investigation is still under way.

Ullapool Sea Savers, with one of many grass patches in the playground killed by glyphosate.
Ullapool Sea Savers, with one of many grass patches in the playground killed by glyphosate.

Many parents remain unconvinced and say they're still looking for answers.

Local child–led environmental activism group, Ullapool Sea Savers, many pupils at the school, were "outraged" and sent a letter to then Highland Council chief executive, Kate Lackie, calling for answers.

They said: "You have given assurances in the past that you wouldn’t use this chemical in school playgrounds – but we can see with our own eyes that you just did. How did this happen? We would like to request a meeting with the head of Highland Council and/or the head the department responsible for this."

Ullapool Primary School.
Ullapool Primary School.

Although the letter has now been logged and passed on to the north education manager, the Sea Savers are disappointed to have still received no answers.

Janis Piggot, environmental consultant for the Ullapool Sea Savers, said: "How can the council expect young people still to feel safe in their playground? What message does that send them about how their well–being is being prioritised?

"In the absence of any answers from the council, the Ullapool Sea Savers will be more keen than ever for a meeting to clarify the council’s position on how this incident happened, and what steps are being taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

"Speaking to the school when it reopens after the summer holidays doesn’t seem like an effective course of action – the spraying was not done by Ullapool Primary School staff. Many of the staff made the request for glyphosate to be banned in the playground."

Ailsa McLellan, who has two sons at Ullapool Primary School, said: "Highland Council ignored our questions for months, then said it was a member of their staff that was on sick leave so unavailable for questioning. If they think this is the end of the matter, they are wrong.

"It's difficult to know what has gone on as Highland Council have been incredibly uncooperative. The fact that someone entered the school without consent or knowledge of staff, and sprayed a potentially carcinogenic weedkiller in an area kids literally roll around in every day is horrifying and a breach of school security.

"On top of the health risks there are wider environmental issues, glyphosate is known to harm many insects including bees and worms. Many countries and some UK councils have banned glyphosate, I want to see it banned here too, the potential human health, and environmental implications are too great for this to be seen as acceptable."

She also stated that the Ullapool Primary Parent Council "universally condemned" the use of glyphosate in the playground.

A spokesperson for Highland Council said: “This matter has been investigated by The Highland Council’s Communities and Place; and Housing and Property Services and we can confirm the weedkilling was not carried out by any Amenities and Facilities Management staff.

“Highland Schools are closed for the summer break. A reminder will be sent to all schools after the recess about the Council’s ban on the use of weed killing products containing glyphosate in all schools.”

Nicky Grant confirmed ban within school grounds.
Nicky Grant confirmed ban within school grounds.

Highland Council's executive chief officer education and learning, Nicky Grant, told the Sea Savers: "We received other reports from people in Ullapool about concerns over the use of glyphosate in the grounds of Ullapool School.

"In 2019, the council agreed a partial ban on the use of glyphosate in certain areas including all sports and recreation facilities. This applied to children’s play areas where it is the council’s policy that glyphosate would not be used.

"We are investigating this incident and therefore we are unable to provide further information about what happened and why until this is complete.

"I’m grateful you’ve taken the time to contact the council about your concerns and we’re pleased to see you taking such a keen interest in the climate crisis and marine conservation and the awareness you are raising around this."

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