Bias alert for bee strategy
Defra's draft pollinator strategy, which will rely on significant research funded by pesticide manufacturers, risks losing public confidence if it does not include robust independent controls, the environmental audit committee (EAC) has warned.
“When it comes to research on pesticides, Defra is content to let the manufacturers fund the work,” said committee chair Joan Walley.
The EAC report noted this was “symptomatic of Defra’s loss of capacity to deliver its environmental protection obligations” and “might result in greater susceptibility to commercial, rather than scientific, research priorities”.
Walley added that independent controls must be maintained at every step and studies must be peer reviewed and published in full.
The goal of the draft strategy, which went out to consultation in March, is to safeguard pollinators and their role in ecosystems.
To that end, its research programme aims to gather more evidence about the value of pollinators, such as bees, hoverflies, butterflies, beetles, midges and moths, and find out why their numbers are falling.
Factors thought to be behind the decline include habitat loss, climate change, parasites and use of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids.
Plans for a national pollinator monitoring framework in the strategy drew support from the committee, which said that such an approach should produce a “clear and less disputed baseline understanding of the plight of pollinators”.
The EAC also welcomed the strategy’s intention to involve the public in protecting pollinators.
Last year, the government rejected the EAC’s recommendation for a ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam), arguing there was a lack of evidence of their effect on colonies.
The EU, nevertheless, has temporarily banned them. Walley called on Defra to use its finalised strategy to make clear that it now accepts that ban and will not seek to overturn it.
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