Pollinator strategy lacks action on pesticides, critics warn

5th November 2014

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Tim Taylor

Plans to halt the decline of pollinators in the UK have been criticised by campaigners for lack of strong action on pesticides.

The government’s pollinator strategy, published by Defra yesterday, proposes wide-ranging action to support insect pollinators such as bees, hoverflies, butterflies, beetles, midges and moths. Defra says it recognises that these species are in decline due to habitat loss, pests and diseases, climate change and the use of some pesticides.

The strategy includes actions such as:

  • introducing a monitoring programme for pollinators and reviewing it at regular intervals;
  • advising land managers and the public on how to support pollinators, for example, by planting pollinator-friendly flowers and mowing grass less often;
  • running workshops on managing urban pollinators for local authorities, developers, planners and local nature partnerships, and integrating advice into planning guidance and local biodiversity initiatives; and
  • promoting opportunities for farmers to support pollinators through new measures under the EU common agricultural policy and voluntary actions.

Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “Not everyone can become a beekeeper, but everyone from major landowners to window-box gardeners can play their part in boosting pollinators.”

Network Rail, Highways Agency, the National Trust and other organisation that manage more than 800,000 hectares of land in England have signed up to the strategy, and pledged to take actions to support pollinators.

Defra is setting up bee hives on the roof of its building in central London. It also says that more funding will be made available to farmers and landowners who take steps to protect pollinators through the new countryside stewardship scheme.

Insect campaign group Buglife said the strategy was “the first rung for bee recovery” but that it did not go far enough. The strategy does not commit to improving the testing regime for new pesticides or to tighten the restrictions on neonicotinoid use, the charity pointed out.

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of Buglife said: “Recent history has shown that we are still authorising insecticides that kill bees and other wildlife, there must be more thorough testing so that licenced pesticides are indeed environmentally safe.”

Friends of the Earth’s senior nature campaigner Paul de Zylva said that the strategy would make a significant contribution to safeguarding Britain’s bees. “But ministers must still get tougher on pesticides and do more to boost bee-friendly farming as 70% of our land is farmed,” he added.

In 2013, the European commission placed a two-year moratorium on use of three neonicotinoid pesticides, imidacloprid, clothianidin and TMX. It will review the ban next year.

The UK government had originally resisted the ban, a move that was heavily criticised by campaigners. MPs on the environmental audit committee said that the department had allowed economic considerations to influence its decision not to support the ban.

But Defra’s response to the consultation on its pollinator strategy reveals that it has left open the possibility of challenging the ban.

Committee chair Joan Walley MP said that the environment department was right to propose developing more field-trial data, but added: “I believe Defra should acknowledge that the balance of evidence available from lab tests and other field-trials already clearly demonstrates the need for the ban on the precautionary principle.”

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