The Bee Coalition of major UK environmental NGOs welcomes the long-awaited publication of the National Pollinator Strategy (NPS), 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 NPS reflects that the 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.
Pollinators contribute £510 million worth of crops to our economy every year. It would cost the UK at least £1.8 billion annually to pollinate crops without them – an expense that would add to the price of the weekly shop.
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. 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 also other wildlife and on water and soil quality. The Task Force strongly suggests that regulatory agencies apply more precautionary principles and further tighten regulations on systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids and fipronil and start formulating plans for a strong reduction of the global scale of use.
Given that there is no planned action on neonicotinoids in the NPS, the Bee Coalition makes the following recommendations to ensure that the Government’s actions in the coming months fill this gap in order to protect 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 to investigate the impact of a ban given that there is no baseline data, monitoring effects are inadequate or absent and neonicotinoids persist in the environment.
- The Government must therefore establish a rigorous monitoring programme to ascertain the effects of the ban for both wildlife and farming.
- Research that is 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.
- Decisions on neonicotinoids should be informed by independent, peer-reviewed and non-commercially driven research.
Commenting on the National Pollinator Strategy, Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF, a member of the Bee Coalition, said:
“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; promote sustainable farming and gardening practices to protect livelihoods and food security while sustaining the wild places and wild flowers vital to the existence of pollinators - and all of us.”
Nick Mole, Policy Officer of Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK), a member of the Bee Coalition, said:
“Whilst we welcome the NPS as a positive step to help protect and increase the numbers of pollinators in the UK we are disappointed that this opportunity to highlight the negative impact that pesticides have on our pollinators has been missed by Defra. With the well founded recognition within the NPS that organic farming creates better habitat for pollinators and the damning evidence provided by the Global Task Force on Systemic Pesticides about the dangers that the use of systemic pesticides present Defra needs to change its way of thinking and adopt bold and progressive initiatives to reduce and stop the use of pesticides that do harm to pollinator species instead of kowtowing to the bad science that is held up by the pesticide industry to protect their products and profits.”
Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife, a member of the Bee Coalition, said:
“It is time now for everyone to come together around this national strategy; for government to deliver tens of thousands of hectares of restored wildflower habitats in the countryside, creating a network of B-Lines so that pollinators can move across the countryside effectively; for local authorities to transform roadside verges and public spaces into buzzing, colourful wildlife havens; and for the public to find space in their lawns to let the flowers bloom”
Ellie Crane, Agriculture Policy Officer of RSPB, a member of the Bee Coalition, said:
“RSPB welcomes the National Pollinator Strategy as a step towards co-ordinated action on helping pollinators. With so much of the country covered by farmland, action in the farmed environment will be crucial. The new Wild Pollinator and Farm Wildlife Package announced today should therefore make a real difference, and we now urge farmers and their representatives to get behind it to make more space for nature in our countryside.”
Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the Soil Association, a member of the Bee Coalition, said:
“A big step forward has been made here by the government by formally acknowledging the benefits of organic farms to pollinators. This is the first time that organic has been mentioned in a government wildlife strategy – recognition of the scientific evidence that organic farms have on average 75% more wild bees. Nonetheless, the efforts of organic farmers, as well as many gardeners across the country, are being totally undone by the mass spraying of insecticides and weed killers on farmland, along with the deadly impact of neonicotinoid seed dressings.”
Paul de Zylva, Senior Nature Campaigner of Friends of the Earth, a member of the Bee Coalition, said:
“Everyone can help reverse bee decline and the Government is relying on everyone to play their part. It will be odd if we all step up to act while the pesticides and farming industry is allowed to carry on in the face of overwhelming evidence that use of so many bee-harming chemicals is a major cause of their decline.”
Elizabeth Hiester, Senior Lawyer at Client Earth, a member of the Bee Coalition, said:
“Robust, effective and pro-active application of existing laws by both the UK government and the pesticide industry would go a long way towards reversing pollinator decline. It is important that the National Pollinator Strategy extends and enhances the opportunity for wider society to play its part. It cannot be a substitute for what is already legally required.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
- The National Pollinator Strategy is published as part of the first major speech by Environment Secretary Liz Truss MP, at 3.30pm on Tuesday 4th November 2014.
- The NPS relies on voluntary measures that farmers can take under the Government’s new environmental stewardship schemes and the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It is unclear how either of these will ensure farming improves its action for pollinators. The Government is also relying on pesticide manufacturers themselves to fund further research into neonicotinoid pesticides. Unless the studies are entirely independent and transparent, the objectivity of any findings will be compromised as will public confidence in the findings.
- The Bee Coalition formed in 2012 when the UK’s main 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, 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.