Pesticides, pollution and the UK's silent spring, 1963-64: Poison in the garden of England

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Despite being characterized as ‘one of the worst agricultural accidents in Britain in the 1960s’, the ‘Smarden incident’ has never been subjected to a complete historical analysis. In 1963, a toxic waste spill in Kent coincided with the publication of the British edition of Rachel Carson's Silent spring. This essay argues that these events combined to ‘galvanize’ nascent toxic and environmental consciousness. A seemingly parochial toxic waste incident became part of a national phenomenon. The Smarden incident was considered to be indicative of the toxic hazards that were born of technocracy. It highlighted the inadequacies of existent concepts and practices for dealing with such hazards. As such, it was part of the fracturing of the consensus of progress: it made disagreements in expertise publicly visible. By the completion of the episode, 10 different governmental ministries were involved. Douglas Good, a local veterinary surgeon, helped to effect the ‘reception’ of Silent spring in the UK by telling the ‘Smarden story’ through local and national media and through the publications of anti-statist organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number297
Pages (from-to)297-327
Number of pages31
JournalNotes and Records of the Royal Society
Issue number3
Early online date15 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2017


  • Pesticides
  • Smarden
  • Rachel Carson
  • Expertise
  • Environmentalism
  • Pollution


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