Wildlife could be at risk from an imminent ban on pesticides linked to bee deaths, farmers and beekeepers have warned.
On Sunday, a European Union-wide ban on three neonicotinoids will come into force, but the National Farmers Union (NFU) and British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) have said the restriction could fuel a rise in spray-based pesticides.They say such alternatives could harm bees, soil-dwelling insects and spiders, and lead to higher genetic resistance to pesticides among crop-eating insects.
The NFU has said there has not been a full assessment of the environmental effects of the ban, while the BBKA has called for a revision to guidelines on safe use of neonicotinoid alternatives.
In May, the European commission introduced a restriction on three neonicotinoid-based pesticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam – after a string of scientific studies linked neonicotinoid chemicals to harm in bees. There is also evidence to suggest neonicotinoids are harmful to a wide range of other wildlife.
A two-year suspension on the chemicals begins on 1 December, meaning farmers will need to rethink their practices for several key crops – such as oilseed rape, linseed and maize – on which neonicotinoids have been widely used in the past.
The NFU disputes the scientific evidence for the ban, and believes farmers will be forced to use older pesticides – particularly pyrethroids – in order to protect crops such as oilseed rape.
Unlike neonicotinoids, which are generally used as seed treatments, pyrethroids are mostly sprayed across crops.
“The neonicotinoids shut down will leave a big hole,” said Don Pendergrast, NFU plant health adviser. “We have anticipated farmers will use one or two extra spray applications of pyrethroids on oil seed rape in the autumn.”
“Using more broad-spectrum insecticides could damage beneficial insects like spiders and soil-dwellers, which eat beetles and aphids.”
He said there is also a danger of increased genetic resistance to pyrethroids among insects which feed on oilseed rape – and pointed to evidence suggesting resistance is already starting to build up in Germany.
BBKA chairman, Dr David Aston, said he did not think the alternative pesticides were necessarily more dangerous to bees than neonicotinoids, but said an increase in pyrethroids could pose risks of its own.
“There is the potential of an increased risk to bees and other pollinators from the older chemicals,” he said. “We would like to see reassurance that risk assessments for these technologies have been revised.”
But invertebrate conservation charity Buglife, which campaigned for neonicotinoids to be banned, said there was no reason for farmers to use more pyrethroids once the ban comes into place.
“Farmers are already using more pyrethroids than they need to,” said chief executive, Matt Shardlow. “All the science suggests 95% of the time they don’t need to be using insecticide to target pollen beetles. Farmers have been using both neonicotinoids and pyrethroids with a belt and braces approach. All we have done is take away the braces.”
“We are much less concerned about pyrethroids than neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids have a higher persistence in environment, and are generally a more toxic option.”
The UK was one of the 8 EU member states that voted against the ban. A Defra spokesperson said: “We want to see a healthy bee population, but we did not support the EU proposal because the scientific evidence doesn’t support it and restrictions will hit farmers’ productivity.
“We have been working with farmers to help them understand the new guidelines and cope with the consequences.”