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Bees: Wildlife and environment groups call for neonic pesticides ban to be retained - and extended to all crops

Seventeen of the UK’s leading wildlife, conservation and environment groups are calling for the current EU restrictions on neonicotinoid insecticides to be retained – and extended to all crops - to protect Britain's bees.

In an open letter to the UK government [1], on the third anniversary of the EU ban on the bee-harming pesticides [2, 3], the organisations say “it is clear that there is now more than enough evidence to retain the ban and extend it to all crops, and that this is essential to reverse the decline of bees and other pollinators.” [4]

The EU restrictions, which ban the use of three neonicotinoids on flowering crops, is due to be reviewed next year [5], starting with a comprehensive assessment of the scientific evidence of the threat posed by the pesticides, by the European Food Safety Authority [EFSA]. The ban was introduced after EFSA concluded that the chemicals posed a "high acute risk" to honey bees.

In the letter, the organisations - Friends of the Earth, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Sustain, Bat Conservation Trust, RSPB, Natural Beekeeping Trust, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Soil Association, Greenpeace UK, Buglife, Environmental Justice Foundation, The Wildlife Trusts, Angling Trust & Fish Legal, Pesticides Action Network, Butterfly Conservation and ClientEarth - say:

“Since 2013 many more independent laboratory and field studies have found neonics impairing the ability of different bee species to feed, navigate and reproduce resulting in declining populations.

“The government says it will not hesitate to act on evidence of harm. The third anniversary of the neonics restrictions is Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom’s chance to catch up with scientific evidence and public opinion by keeping and extending the ban as part of properly protecting Britain’s bees and pollinating insects.”

Three of the UK’s leading bee experts [6] also said today that the scientific case against the use of the three pesticides has grown over the past three years, and that the restrictions should continue and be extended to other crops. The scientists are Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at Sussex University,  Dr Penelope Whitehorn, Applied Ecologist, University of Stirling and Dr. Christopher Connolly, Reader in Neurobiology, University of Dundee.

In August this year a YouGov survey [7] for Friends of the Earth found that 81% want to keep the EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, with only 5% saying it should end.
 
Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at Sussex University said:

"Three years ago EFSA's analysis of the scientific evidence concluded that neonicotinoids "pose an unacceptable risk to bees". Since then dozens of new studies from around the world have been published, including a major Swedish field trial in which neonicotinoids were shown to impact profoundly on bumblebee colonies and solitary bees.

“Work from Italy has showed that even tiny doses of neonicotinoids impair the immune system of honeybees, rendering them susceptible to infections. Perhaps more concerning, it has become clear that neonicotinoids are persistent and pervasive in the environment, so that soils, wildflowers, ponds and rivers commonly contain significant levels.

“This widespread pollution of the environment with these potent neurotoxins has now been linked not just to bee declines but also to declines in butterflies, aquatic insects, and insect-eating birds. With farmland wildlife populations in free fall, it is surely time to extend the moratorium on neonicotinoids to cover other uses." 

Dr Penelope Whitehorn, Applied Ecologist, University of Stirling, said:

“The scientific evidence now clearly shows that neonicotinoids are causing massive harm to bees and other species that we all depend upon. These chemicals should go the way of DDT and be permanently discontinued.  
 
“What’s more, there is plenty of evidence that alternative pest control strategies really work.  It is now vital that our government properly supports farmers to gain the knowledge and tools to maximise yields and minimise chemical inputs using Integrated Pest Management. This is the path to a more sustainable future”.

Dr. Christopher Connolly, Reader in Neurobiology, University of Dundee, said:

“The evidence from our research shows a complex relationship between different neonicotinoids and different insects.  What is safe to one species may be very toxic to another. 

“We can’t afford to take any risks with our insect pollinators so to protect them the moratorium must stay in place for the three restricted neonicotinoids.

“And we now know that these chemicals are so persistent that they can turn up, not just in the treated crop, but in the pollen or nectar of wildflowers or crops grown subsequently in the same field.   To prevent bees being exposed in this way the restrictions need to be extended to other crops including wheat where neonics are still widely used”.

Friends of the Earth bee campaigner Paul de Zylva said:

“Bees play a crucial role in pollinating our food crops and wild plants, they really do make Britain bloom – we must do far more to reverse the decline of these precious pollinators and other insects.

“With overwhelming evidence on the harm neonicotinoid pesticides cause to our pollinators, it’s time the UK government supported a comprehensive ban on these bee-harming chemicals to keep them out of our countryside, parks and gardens forever.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. The open letter to the government is below.
2. An EU-wide moratorium, which came into force in December 2013, restricts the use of three neonicotinoids: imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam, on flowering crops. It was introduced after a report by scientists at the European Food Safety Authority concluded that they posed a "high acute risk" to honey bees. The restrictions can be temporarily lifted by the UK government, as they did in parts of England last year. The UK government did not support the EU restrictions on neonicotinoids, and ministers have yet to indicate whether they would keep the restrictions when the UK leaves the EU.
3. Why the restrictions should be extended to other crops: Neonicotinoid pesticides are highly mobile in the environment and persistent.  Between 80% to about 95% of the pesticide does not get absorbed by the plant but  is distributed as dust or via soil and water.  One of the restricted neonicotinoids, clothianidin, is still widely used in the UK as a seed treatment on wheat.  Research shows that neonicotinoids can accumulate to high levels in wildflowers surrounding arable crops. EFSA recently concluded that bees are at risk of exposure via flowering crops grown after a treated crop such as wheat, and from dust drift when winter cereals are sown.  Although the impacts on other species are less well studied there is evidence that neonics are a risk to earthworms, freshwater invertebrates, birds and butterflies.
4. Science growing on neonic threat to bees.
5. Pesticides and bees: EFSA to update neonicotinoid assessments.
6. More information on the three scientists:
* Dr Penelope Whitehorn of the University of Stirling is an applied ecologist, and an expert on bumblebees and other pollinating insects who’s research has examined the effect of the neonicotinoids on bumblebee colony growth and queen production.
* Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex is a leading expert in the ecology of bees and other insects who has published 200 scientific papers and two books on the subject.
* Dr. Christopher N Connolly is  Reader in Neurobiology at the University of Dundee and is an expert in bee brains and in particular how neuronal dysfunction contributes to pesticide toxicity in bees.
7. 81% want to keep an EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that have been found to pose a threat to bees, with only 5% saying it should end.

8. Last week Cornwall Council voted to ban the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on its non-agricultural land. The council also agreed to work towards achieving a reduction in the use of neonicotinoids on council-owned farms through a detailed and ongoing review of good practice and evidence, and engaging with the farming sector. Three west country councils now have similar restrictions on neonicotinoids in place.

Open letter to the Government

1 December 2016

December 1st marks the third anniversary of the introduction of Europe-wide restrictions on three neonicotinoid pesticides - often known as 'neonics' - after they were found by scientists to pose a "high acute risk" to honeybees.

It is clear that there is now more than enough evidence to retain the ban and extend it to all crops, and that this is essential to reverse the decline of bees and other pollinators.

Since 2013 many more independent laboratory and field studies have found neonics impairing the ability of different bee species to feed, navigate and reproduce resulting in declining populations.

There is now solid evidence of harm from neonics to wild bumble and solitary bees which are even more sensitive to these pesticides than honeybees. Evidence has also grown of neonics harming the wider environment with studies indicating a link to butterfly population decline, identifying risks to bird species and finding neonics accumulating to dangerous levels in wildflowers surrounding crops.

2017 will be a crucial year for decisions on bees as scientists will publish the official review of the evidence of harm to bees from the three restricted neonicotinoids.

The government says it will not hesitate to act on evidence of harm. The third anniversary of the neonics restrictions is Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom’s chance to catch up with scientific evidence and public opinion by keeping and extending the ban as part of properly protecting Britain’s bees and pollinating insects.

Yours faithfully,

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive, Friends of the Earth
Dr Jeremy Biggs, Director, Freshwater Habitats Trust
Pauline Buchanan Black, Director General, The Tree Council
Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive, Sustain
Martin Harper, Conservation Director, RSPB
Heidi Herrmann, Co-Founder, Natural Beekeeping Trust
Dr Maggie Keegan, Head of Policy, Scottish Wildlife Trust
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive, Angling Trust & Fish Legal
Peter Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association
John Sauven, Executive Director, Greenpeace UK
Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive, Buglife
Kit Stoner, Chief Executive, Bat Conservation Trust
Steve Trent, Executive Director, Environmental Justice Foundation
Steve Trotter, Director, The Wildlife Trusts
Dr Keith Tyrell, Director, Pesticides Action Network
Dr Martin Warren, Chief Executive, Butterfly Conservation
Catherine Weller, Head of Biodiversity Programme, ClientEarth

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