Environment Bill: Protection for pollinators amendment welcomed by conservationists

A proposed amendment to the Environment Bill aimed at protecting pollinators from pesticides was published yesterday and has been greeted by insect conservationists saying it puts in place something “people are shocked to hear isn’t happening already”.

If taken forward, the amendment would legislate that no pesticide product, active ingredient, safener or synergist will be authorised for use unless a “competent” authority - in England, the secretary of state - is satisfied “there will be no negative effect on the short-term or long-term health of honeybees or wild pollinator populations”. 

The amendment has been put forward by Baroness Bakewell, Baroness Jones and Baroness Bennet as the Environment Bill progresses through the House of Lords. 

The amendment also calls for the establishment of an expert body which would publish pollinator risk assessment reports, looking at how the relevant substance affects honeybees, bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies. The expert body would also be required to consult the public on the draft content of their report.

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of conservation charity Buglife welcomed the news, telling ENDS: “I think it’s a really good start. This is an essential step towards making pesticide use safe. We don’t want to see future pesticides destroying insects as they have in recent years, it’s really important that they introduce this risk assessment process”.

Shardlow said that currently the process happens behind closed doors, and breaking it out and involving the public is a good step forward. 

He added that currently only short term effects on honeybees are tested to assess the impact of pesticides, but there is nothing in place for other populations of pollinators such as bumblebees.

“It’s really important”, he said, “it puts in place something people are shocked to hear isn’t happening already”. 

Wild bee declines have been ascribed in part to neonicotinoid insecticides.

The government’s most recently published biodiversity indicators show that the outlook is bad for insects

Over both the long and short term, pollinator numbers have been deteriorating, a problem which will have knock-on impacts for plants reliant on insect pollination for their propagation. 

It’s a similar story for insects across the board, where over the long term the biodiversity indicators show that insects that are habitat specialists have deteriorated, as have those that live in the wider countryside. 

The Environment Bill will progress to the Lord’s Committee stage on Monday.

There are currently 68 pages of amendments to the Bill to be debated and voted on. 

Last week, green groups responded with dismay to the detail of a government amendment on species abundance, claiming that the wording fell short of the environment secretary's promise of delivering a “net zero for nature”.

Other amendments, which have been proposed since the Environment Bill returned to Parliament in May, include one to extend net-gain to major infrastructure projects, a new clause would make the hedgehog a protected species, and an amendment which would give the secretary of state the power to amend the Habitats Regulations as they apply to England and break the link with the overarching EU directive.

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