We work to protect bees and other pollinators, like moths and butterflies, and to sustain the wild places and wild flowers vital to their existence and ours. We campaign against the use of harmful pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, and promote organic farming and gardening methods that reduce pesticides, provide vital pollinator habitats, increase biodiversity and sustain a healthier environment for them and us.
Pollinators contribute £510 million worth of crops to our economy every year. It would cost the UK £1.8 billion annually to pollinate crops without them.
If we do not act to halt and reverse the decline in pollinator numbers, there could be severe consequences for the UK, including lower yields, a rise in food prices and the disappearance of many industries that rely on pollinators for their livelihoods.
EJF is a founding member of the Bee Coalition working to protect bees and pollinators, including campaigning against the use of neonicotinoids, which have been strongly linked to the collapse of bee populations. We work to document and raise awareness of the impacts of harmful pesticides and to promote organic production to safeguard the health of humans, animals and our global environment.
The Bee Coalition formed in 2012 when 13 of the UK’s leading environmental groups joined forces to call for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that are toxic to bees and pollinators. Since 2012, a core group of eight organisations (Buglife, Client Earth, EJF, Friends of the Earth, Natural Beekeeping Trust, Pesticide Action Network, RSPB and Soil Association) have been working to bring attention to the plight of bees and pollinators and specifically to engage policymakers, industry and the public about their respective roles in ensuring their protection.
1. Neonicotinoids and the risks to bees and other wildlife
Neonicotinoids were first introduced in the 1990s and now account for one third of the global insecticide market. In the UK, they are used on crops including potato, sugar beet, cereals, oilseed rape, fruit, vegetables, ornamental plants, tree nurseries, lawns and seeds for export, and are commonly applied as a seed coating, foliar spay or soil drench.
The pesticide moves into the tissues of the growing plant, making all parts toxic to any insect interacting with it, including those providing vital pollination services. Applying neonicotinoids directly to seeds was designed to ensure that only creatures eating the crop would be exposed, which in theory is an improvement on spraying pesticides across the field. However, research has shown that neonicotinoids are now contaminating the wider environment and potentially affecting a variety of wildlife. Pollen and nectar become contaminated, toxic dust is emitted when seeds are drilled into the ground, and a substantial proportion of the pesticide is lost into the soil, where it accumulates and remains for years. Chemicals are also found in high quantities in water systems.
Much research has focused on the impacts of neonicotinoids on bees and other pollinating insects. Even the minute amounts of neonicotinoids found in the pollen and nectar of flowering crops can affect the behaviour of bees in ways that threaten their ability to survive and reproduce.
In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reviewed the evidence and concluded that neonicotinoids pose ‘high acute risks’ to bees. In response, the European Commission imposed a two-year moratorium on the three main neonicotinoids (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam), restricting their use to crops that are not attractive to pollinating insects, and winter sown cereals. This partial ban began in December 2013 and will be reviewed when further information becomes available, and at the latest by December 2015. Neonicotinoids are still authorised for use on non-flowering crops and winter sown cereals.
Evidence shows that neonicotinoids pose ‘high acute risks’ to bees.
The UK Government’s National Pollinator Strategy
The long-awaited publication of the National Pollinator Strategy (NPS) in November 2014 was an important step towards reversing the decline of pollinators in the UK, but stronger action is needed to protect pollinators from pesticides following mounting evidence of the threats they pose. The UK Government still fails to accept European neonicotinoid risk assessments based on robust, peer-reviewed science and there is still little indication of how it will ensure sufficient change is achieved to reverse pollinator declines.
Important new research published during summer and autumn 2014 shows the unquestionably harmful impacts of neonicotinoids on pollinators. The Global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides reported on its four-year comprehensive review of the evidence to date on the effects of neonicotinoids. It reported impacts on bees and other wildlife and on water and soil quality. The Task Force strongly suggests that regulatory agencies take more consideration of the precautionary principle, further tighten regulations on systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids and fipronil and being formulating plans for a large-scale reductions of global pesticide use. The UK Government cannot continue to cite insufficient evidence as a reason for inaction on protecting bees and other insect pollinators from the proven threats of neonicotinoid pesticides.
We are calling for the following actions in the coming months to help protect our pollinators:
- The Government must commit to fully implementing, enforcing and monitoring the EU neonicotinoid ban.
- The ban must be extended: two years is not long enough.
- The Government must establish a rigorous monitoring programme to ascertain the effects of the ban for both wildlife and farming.
- Research funded by pesticide manufacturers must be designed, conducted and reported independently; once completed, the results must be peer-reviewed and published in full without delay.
Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, explains that “It’s clear that if we don’t act quickly to halt and reverse the decline in pollinator numbers, there could be severe consequences for the UK, including lower yields, a rise in food prices and the disappearance of many industries that rely on pollinators for their livelihoods. Collectively we must ensure that the National Pollinator Strategy is implemented properly, so we can protect bees and other pollinators like moths and butterflies; and promote organic farming and gardening methods that reduce pesticides, provide vital pollinator habitats, increase biodiversity and sustain a healthier environment for them and us.”
2. The Bee Coalition
The Bee Coalition formed in 2012 when the UK’s leading environmental groups joined forces to call for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that are toxic to bees and pollinators. Since 2012, a core group of eight organisations (Buglife, Client Earth, Environmental Justice Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Natural Beekeeping Trust, Pesticide Action Network UK, RSPB and Soil Association) have been working to bring attention to the plight of bees and pollinators and to engage policymakers, industry and the public about their respective roles in ensuring their protection.
In 2013, the Bee Coalition demonstrated the overwhelming public and civil society support for a ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids through the organisation of 'The March of the Beekeepers'. This march brought together hundreds of protestors outside Parliament at Westminster, led by designers Vivienne Westwood and Katharine Hamnett, to urge the UK Government to support the proposed European ban on bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides. Despite the UK Government's vote against the ban, neonicotinoid pesticides were subsequently banned for two years throughout the European Union in 2013.
The Bee Coalition is also vocal in mobilising the public through 'Call to Action' petitions. In 2014, the coalition, along with campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, called on David Cameron through a petition and a ‘swarm’ on 10 Downing Street to reject bids from pesticide manufacturer Syngenta who requested an exemption in order to treat large areas of UK oilseed rape with bee-harming pesticides.
Spurred by the publication of a number of independent, peer-reviewed scientific studies and reviews of evidence confirming the negative effects of neonicotinoids on our pollinators, the Bee Coalition continues to campaign for a permanent extension on the neonicotinoid ban, alongside its effective implementation and monitoring, by engaging regularly with the UK media and policymakers to keep attention on the issue. It also continues to advocate for an end to the use of bee-harming pesticides throughout agricultural and domestic sectors within the UK, as well as more effective monitoring of pollinator populations.
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