A new study, published today by the science journal PNAS, has found that increased use of pesticides and fertiliser is driving bird population declines across the UK and Europe. 

It’s the latest evidence of the harm pesticides are having on our natural environment.

Neonicotinoids are a group of chemicals used in arable farming about which we have particular concerns.

The scientific evidence has been steadily building for some time that neonicotinoid pesticides are having a widespread impact on bees, other pollinators including moths and butterflies as well as birds and other wildlife. At Butterfly Conservation we became convinced that the evidence, despite some uncertainty, was sufficient to call for a ban several years ago, in part because of the extremely worrying link between rates of neonicotinoid use and the decline of widespread butterflies.

The pesticides are taken up by wild plants growing in field margins and therefore both adult butterflies drinking contaminated nectar and caterpillars feeding on plant tissues are exposed.  Essentially, butterflies, a non-target group of widespread insects not generally found in cropped fields were being contaminated in the general countryside, the very field margins we have been encouraging and even paying farmers to create and manage for wildlife for years. 

A 2015 study published by researchers from the Universities of Stirling and Sussex, the Centre for Hydrology (CEH) and Butterfly Conservation clearly showed correlation with the rate of neonicotinoid use on farmland and declines in butterfly indices. This research came on the back of other studies that were showing even quite low rates of contamination could have serious negative impacts on the health and behaviour of bees. 

Butterfly Conservation considers that recent scientific evidence is now sufficiently compelling that the current EU wide neonicotinoid pesticides ban should be expanded to cover all agricultural uses as a precaution (not just the ban on use in gardens and in flowering crops where there might be a high exposure to bees and other pollinators, as is currently the case). This ban should be reviewed regularly and lifted only if clear evidence becomes available that they cause no harm to non-target insects and other wildlife, or that alternative crop management practices might be more harmful.

There remains an urgent need for a major improvement in the regulation of all pesticides including thorough screening and independent research into their impact on biodiversity before they are approved for use. This research should include field trials of their use in practice as well as laboratory studies of direct mortality on a wide range of native, non-target invertebrate species.

Sign the petition to overturn the decision to allow use of neonicotinoid pesticides on sugar crops now.