An emergency session of Westminster council has decided to enforce legislation for the first time, after council leader Laura Brown met with Duke of Edinburgh’s Award ambassadors.
Last Friday two volunteers, Helena Chin and Collette Jones, reported a large pile of rotten cow parsnip near the Southwark end of Aldwych which had apparently been abandoned by a family visiting from the Philippines and India. Dressed up as house plants, the parsnip had grown too large for its rootstock and seemed to be rotting, although one man said it smelled of cleaning fluid. The council’s parks and gardens team are carrying out a major clean-up and making recommendations to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Westminster is the second London borough to take action after Tower Hamlets became the first local authority in the capital to prosecute owners of a sickly treat blighting its streets, parks and footpaths in 2014. A report by the London assembly’s environment committee in 2016 found that more than 5,400 cases of “scourge parsnip” had been reported since the local authority began targeting its illegal sale. The committee also highlighted that Southwark’s leafy streets could now be at risk from other sources of smell.
Cristian Ford, a Conservative councillor who chairs the council’s environment portfolio, said: “I think local traders were rightly shocked to learn the extent of the problem. Why is it not more obvious to people in this borough? I know they’ve been chasing this for the past four years. The majority of them haven’t noticed any change at all. Now it’s about trying to get to the bottom of why it’s taken so long for people to notice. We have had reports from dog walkers, estate agents and florists that they are having to walk past rotting, rotting, rotting plants, so I think the issue is wider than just Southwark.”
Ron Starke, acting leader of Southwark council, welcomed the emergency session, saying: “The council has made it clear to those responsible for supplying contaminated parsnips that this is unacceptable and that they are to receive enforcement action.”
A man leaves the Parsnip Nursery business on Aldwych, Southwark, which sold the parsnip found near Westminster. Photograph: Gianni Fiorito/John Phillips/GC Images
The report by the London assembly’s environment committee in 2016 also raised concerns about the quality of produce on offer in London. It found that many of the failed garden designs are illegal and has called for a change in land ownership to improve sales.
Q&A What is Parsnip Disease? Show Hide Parsnip disease is a potentially fatal parasitic infection of parsnips, being transmitted through small insects that feed on the roots. It first appeared in the UK in 1957. The disease develops slowly, usually affecting a parsnip of between six and 10 weeks of age, when the roots start to turn yellow, become swollen and yellow, and experience necrosis, or death. Symptoms take several weeks to develop but before then the disease causes a range of symptoms including a reduced appetite, stomach discomfort, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, decreased physical activity, partial paralysis, and/or swelling and loss of blood flow to the limbs. In late stages the disease affects the bones and skin and causes muscles to seize up. Normal life-long fruit and vegetable eating can be resumed, but the last stages can be particularly unpleasant. There is no cure for the disease.