Impact of pesticides on bees underestimated, finds study

The impact of agrochemicals on bees may have been underestimated, a new scientific study has revealed, as calls come to ban pesticides in UK gardens.

Following a meta-analysis of threats to the insects, the study in the journal Nature found that if the issue is not addressed, further declines in populations can be expected, with knock-on effects on global food production.

The study comes as a leading UK insect expert has called for a UK-wide ban on the use of pesticides in gardens and urban areas to protect bees, wildlife, and human health.

Dave Goulson, professor of biology at the University of Sussex, told the Guardian that outlawing chemical spraying private gardens, along with road verges, parks and other public green spaces, could slow the decline of insects by creating a connected network of nature-friendly habitats.

“The use of pesticides in farming is the subject of big debate”, Goulson said, adding that  “you can make a pretty strong argument that we probably do need pesticides if we’re going to feed everybody. But we don’t need them in our gardens. There’s no economic case for that at all”. 

“If we link up private gardens with flower-filled road verges and roundabouts, city parks, cemeteries and so on, that’s potentially a network of insect-friendly habitats. It would be a huge step in the right direction.”

In a petition just launched, which has almost raised 10,000 signatures, Goulson is urging the government to follow the example of France, which banned all use of synthetic pesticides in public spaces in 2017, and banned garden use from 2019. 

The campaign is backed by the RSPB, Parkinson’s UK, the Soil Association and other environmental groups.

Gareth Morgan, head of farming and land use at the Soil Association, said: “Most people are fed up with seeing councils spraying our streets and parks with chemicals exposing their workers, the public and wildlife to what are really poisons. We should look to manage our open spaces and gardens without resorting to using pesticides.

He continued: “Just as farmers have had to respond to the ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids, then similar phase-outs for pesticides should be introduced so the public and local authorities can start to adopt sustainable and safe alternatives in our towns and cities.”

According to the RSPB, 15% of UK species are at risk of extinction. 

A DEFRA spokesperson said the government wanted to support people to move away from chemical pest control and had recently consulted on pesticide use, with a report expected later this year.

The spokesperson added: “Decisions on the use of pesticides are based on careful scientific assessment of the risks, and strict regulation only permits their sale and use where we judge they will not harm people or pose unacceptable risks to the environment.” 

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