Sandy’s Garden ... More about Neonicotinoids and Bees

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Five months ago, I wrote these words: “Neonicotinoids are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine”.

“Neonicotinoids are the first new class of insecticides introduced in the last 50 years, and the neonicotinoid imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world.” These words were taken from Wikipedia. This next quote was taken from the Westminster Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website: “Neonicotinoid insecticides meet the standards set by the regulatory system and legal restrictions are in place to limit the exposure of bees to these products.” And the following words were my own: “But the majority of member states of the European Union recently voted to ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides for at least the next two years. Watch this space!”

If you are still watching, there has been a recent development. The Westminster Government responded recently to … and I am sorry about the rather complicated title of this document … the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s Seventh Report of Session 2012–13 - Pollinators and Pesticides, in which that committee of MPs stated that, “The conservation of pollinators is crucial to maintaining biodiversity in the UK. In addition, pollinators have a significant economic value as an ecosystem service to UK agriculture. Farmers and environmentalists therefore have a shared interest in conserving pollinators. … Neonicotinoid pesticides are not fundamental to the general economic or agricultural viability of UK farming.” In other words, the UK should follow the example of the European Union … of which we are members … and impose a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides until there is clear evidence that these insecticides are not harming the population of bees and other insect pollinators which are essential to our food supply.

And what was the government’s response to this recommendation from one of its own committees which had been tasked with recommending the best course of action? “The available evidence indicates that wild insect pollinators, such as hoverflies, moths, midges, butterflies and wild bees, are experiencing serious population declines, but there is insufficient data to be precise about the extent of such declines due to inadequate monitoring.” The point is reinforced by this statement: “The FERA bumblebee study, which Defra commissioned to test the conclusions of the laboratory studies in the field, was, we conclude, fundamentally flawed.” (FERA is a division of Defra). In other words, yes, pollinators are facing problems, but Her Majesty’s Government does not accept that neonicotinoid insecticides have been proved to be one of them and accordingly proposes to do nothing, rejecting the Committee’s recommendation and ignoring the European Union’s position. And, yes, that statement about the research commissioned by Defra being ‘fundamentally flawed’ is a pretty damning indictment of a piece of scientific research!

So who is right – the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee and its scientific advisers … who agree with the European Union’s expert advisers … or the civil servants who advise the Westminster ministers? Well, I am just a humble toiler in the garden who cannot differentiate between the different species of bumblebees which I have found dead and dying there: but my money is with the scientists who advocate suspending the use of neonicotinoids … which both sides of the argument seem to agree are not essential to the farming industry … until further research has been undertaken. Why risk further losses in the populations of essential insects by using a non-essential insecticide until we know more?

Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society