Let’s talk about buttercups. Buttercups, thistles, dock leaves, nettles and those massive green leaves that seem to put the heebie-jeebies into my tank-like cob despite seeing them every single summer.
We know these green baddies can be the bane of many a pristine-paddock during the spring and summer. While for many of us horse-owners, the winter slog drags on, it won’t be long until our thoughts go to the preparation of our summer grazing and the luxury of lie-ins and 24/7 turnout.
Of course, before the prospect of summer grazing becomes a reality many owners and yard managers will be preparing their paddocks – rolling, harrowing, and seeding, not to mention spraying to get rid of the dreaded dock leaves and troublesome thistles. All to give our living lawnmowers the top notch Dr Green they deserve.
For many yard owners, spraying these little blighters is the easiest way to rid our fields of weeds. It wasn’t until I started working at Anglian Water recently, I realised the impact some of the herbicides we commonly use in the horsey community can have on the wider environment and importantly, our drinking water. I’d always considered my ‘playing ponies’ to be small fry in terms of potential environmental impact compared to some industries out there. However I was soon to learn this is not the case.
Unknown to many of us, the active ingredient in many grazing pesticides (like Graze-On and Pastor-Pro) – Clopyralid – used to control dock leaves, thistles, nettles and the resilient little buttercups is actually causing a real problem for the water company folk who get our water ready to drink.
When we spray our fields and paddocks in the spring to get rid of all the greenery our horses don’t like to munch, any excess herbicide can run off the fields and into the ditches, rivers, streams and eventually enter reservoirs. Unintended pesticides in the environment are never a good thing, but can be particularly problematic if it happens in a Drinking Water Protected Area.
These areas are mapped out for all water sources used for public drinking water supply. The ‘raw’ untreated water is taken directly from boreholes, rivers and reservoirs in these areas to be treated before it enters our water supply.
At Anglian Water we have found higher levels of Clopyralid in the water in areas where there are horse grazing paddocks nearby. Now, ideally we don’t want it in the water at all, from an environmental point of view. But from a water company stance it means more intensive treatment is needed to rid the water of this pesky chemical before we can use it. More treatment means more cost on our water bills and a bigger carbon footprint – an own goal in environmental terms.
Despite the fact we’re not the only ones using these herbicides, I know one of the reasons many of us keep horses is because of a wider love for being outside in nature and the environment. I for one was worried about the potential impact I might be having on the bigger picture – and I’m sure many of you will feel the same.
But never fear – the best way to solve this clopyralid conundrum is to be careful about where and when we spray it. There are a few simple steps we can all take to make sure we’re looking after the environment as well as our large furry friends.
- Make sure your sprayers are serviced and calibrated before use – this will ensure you’re using the right amount of product.
- Only make up the volume of product required for the area to be treated.
- Target weeds at the right size – young and actively growing weeds are best.
- Wear suitable protective clothing when handling and measuring the concentrate and whilst spraying – gloves, coveralls and rubber boots are essential.
- Don’t spray on a windy day. Not only are you probably wasting money on product, it’s unlikely to kill the weeds in your paddock and will end up in the nearest river instead
- Check the weather forecast so you don’t spray before rain. Rain will wash the pesticide off your weeds and carry it straight into the nearest ditch or river.
- For GrazeOn Pro spray must not be sprayed within a meter of the top of the bank of a flowing or static water body.
- PastorPro requires a 5 meter buffer area be left unsprayed next to a flowing or static water body, or 1 meter buffer strip to be left unsprayed near dry ditches.
- Spray must be aimed away from any water. Cover your drinking troughs too.
- When spraying is finished, clean out the tank, spray lines and nozzles and product containers making sure the dirty water is disposed of on a treated patch of field.