In Depth

UK to support ban on pesticides linked to bee deaths

EU vote in December could prohibit the use of pesticides linked to declining insect numbers

The Government will reverse its opposition to a EU-wide ban on pesticides harmful to flying insects, Michael Gove has announced.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has thrown its support behind an EU bill which would ban the use of neonicotinoids, a group of pesticides that are toxic to bees and other insects.

In an article for The Guardian, Gove said that the reversal in his department’s policy had come about in response to a growing body of evidence that the ecological damage associated pesticide use had been underestimated in the past.

“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood,” he said.

Gove said he had been particularly shaken by a 27-year German study of insect populations which recorded a 75% drop from the number of flying insects recorded in 1989, prompting warnings of an ‘ecological armageddon’.

In the UK, Defra’s most recent biodiversity statistics show that winged insect life in the UK has been in general decline since 1987.

Despite increased efforts to raise awareness of the declining wild bee population, 49% of bee species continued to dwindle in number between 2009 and 2014, while 29% experienced an increase, according to Defra statistics.

Widespread use of pesticides is considered to be a major cause of the plummeting number of winged insects, in addition to the destruction of their natural habitats and pollinating grounds.

The European Commission is due to vote on the proposal to ban neonicotinoids from fields across Europe in December. With member states roughly split on the issue, the UK’s U-turn is a valuable step towards ensuring that the bill passes.

Three neonicotinoids - Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam - are already banned from use on crops that are particularly attractive to bees, such as oilseed rape, says Horticulture Week.

The proposed new measure would extend the ban to cover all use of the three pesticides except in covered spaces such as greenhouses.

Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said that the scientific evidence signalling the need for a total ban on outdoor use was overwhelming. “Michael Gove is to be congratulated for listening to the experts,” he said.

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