WHEN I first tried to speak with Ben Brown, he was a little preoccupied.

“Would just after four be OK for our chat?” he asked. “Currently planting a tree in someone’s garden.”

Not perhaps the usual response you get to a text, but one which certainly typifies everything Manningtree, the UK’s smallest town is about.

While the town is renowned for its tiny physical presence, it certainly has big plans to save the world.

It is why residents have now successfully made the town the first place in East Anglia to be completely free of the herbicide glyphosate - and one of the first in the whole country.

Gazette: Liz Dunnett does her bit to helpLiz Dunnett does her bit to help

Glyphosate is the world’s most widely-used herbicide or weedkiller. It is used by land owners, such as councils, to control weeds and it is also readily available in many supermarkets and garden centres as a quick and easy fix to stop weeds.

The issue with quick fixes is that while practical, they often come with a whole heap of issues, including concerns about the impact on our environment.

Mr Brown, who is a councillor, was inspired to take action when out walking someone else’s dog.

A worker was spraying the kerbside with the herbicide and it made the dog ill, causing it to vomit. So ill, in fact, the dog almost had to be put down.

Mr Brown said this made him realise why change was urgently needed.

Gazette: Manningtree is believed to be the UK's smallest townManningtree is believed to be the UK's smallest town

“It made me realise how potent this stuff really is,” he explained.

“The next spraying was imminent after the dog got poisoned and the town’s mayor called for an extraordinary meeting.

“The council voted unanimously to end the sprayings - we had conjured up our own idea.

“When I first joined the council I saw these two people out guerilla gardening the streets and I thought it was quite a cool thing to be doing. No-one gets paid, it’s all just to help the community.

“Inspired by this, around the time the pandemic began, we started this little hand weeding group and built up from there.

“We thought it’s a small town so we don’t really need it sprayed with this stuff, we can manage it ourselves.

“Ultimately this group kept growing and growing as people really enjoyed the social element of it, it turned into a community pride type activity.

Gazette: Elliot Simmonds-Munday is attempting to protect his futureElliot Simmonds-Munday is attempting to protect his future

“So Tendring Council acknowledged our work and gave us this three-month trial of hand weeding from June last year where we had to submit weekly reports to them.

“Finally, last week they emailed back and said ‘Yes, OK, you can carry on’. It was quite an anxious process really but now it’s great we can continue.”

Weeding isn’t the only initiative going on in the eco-focused town, the culture is very much embedded within the community.

The town’s Practical Actions for Climate and the Environment group looks to address the climate crisis and take positive steps to protect the environment.

It helps encourage people and businesses in the community to reduce their carbon footprint.

One such business which followed suit is Winyl, in South Street.

The shop, which opened in 2018 by founders Whilmari Swift and partner Steve Tattam, sells both alcohol and vinyl records.

In a bid to better reduce their own impact on the planet, the business owners introduced a zero waste range of refillable wine.

Gazette: An aerial view of the townAn aerial view of the town

Once the alcohol is gone, the shop takes the bottle back, and takes 50p off the next bottle purchased; the bottles themselves are sent off to be rinsed and refilled.

Winyl also has an in-store cork recycling station from Recorked UK, which who donates money to a clean water charity.

Reflecting on the town’s efforts, Mr Brown feels a sense of pride.

“As soon as you get a bit of momentum people want to get onboard and help out. It feels good to do the right thing.

“Work like this is really important, even if it’s only on a small scale, because when you’re in a smaller place you could think it’s not going to have much impact but actually it shows other people it can be done.

“We’re acting as a beacon to show others the way and are encouraging other nearby councils to get involved and share ideas together so we can all benefit.

“We can all do something small to play our part and if we can inspire others then that’s even better.”