In 2013 the EU brought into effect a ban for two years on the commercial use of neonicotinoid pesticides on crops. The pesticide has been linked to the decline in bee populations across both Europe and North America, with evidence that shows how wild bees which have come into contact with the chemicals have hives containing two thirds fewer queens, thus negatively impacting the ability of the colony to survive over winter.
Yet despite the EU-wide ban, the U.K. government has decided to temporarily lift it, and allow the use of the pesticides in certain parts of the country, though exactly which parts are yet to be officially disclosed. Environmental and conservation groups are up in arms, criticizing the government for its secrecy over the issue, made all the more pertinent by the revelation that the government has gagged its own scientific advisers, refusing the publishing of the minutes from discussions on the use of the chemicals.
Friends of the Earth bees campaigner Paul de Zylva has called the decision “scandalous,” and that the government has “caved in to NFU [National Farmers' Union] pressure and given permission for some farmers to use banned pesticides that have been shown to harm our precious bees.”
It's been the NFU who has fought the government for the temporary lift on the ban, due to its effectiveness against crop pests such as cabbage stem flea beetle. “We’re glad to finally see a positive result,” said Guy Smith, Vice President of the NFU. “However, we know that this isn’t enough – flea beetle threat is widespread problem on a national scale and the extremely limited nature of this authorisation is unfortunately not going to help the vast majority of farmers in need of the protection.”
The new move from the government will allow the use of the pesticide for 120 days on 5% of England’s oilseed rape crop, with suggestions that predominantly farmers in the county of Suffolk will be allowed to use two products produced by Bayer and Syngenta, containing a neonicotinoid called clothianidin. The evidence showing the harm of the pesticides is growing. Even that data that the government originally used to oppose the ban in the first place was shown to have been misinterpreted, and in fact showed the negative impacts it has on bee colonies.
“We now have robust evidence that neonicotinoids have a serious impact on free-living bumblebee colonies in real farmed landscapes,” says Dr. Lynn Dicks, biodiversity and ecosystem services research fellow at the University of Cambridge. “The Bayer ingredient allowed under this derogation – clothianidin – is the one tested in the recent study. It showed that bumblebees in landscapes with treated oilseed rape produced only a third as many queens as those in landscapes treated with other insecticide sprays, but not neonicotinoid.”
“I would like to ask the two companies who gain from this decision – Bayer and Syngenta – to pay scientists to monitor the impacts on wild bumblebees and solitary bees, in comparison with areas the remain under the ban.”