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The Evidence Points in One Direction - We Must Ban Neonicotinoids

With more and more evidence emerging that these pesticides harm bees and other insects, it would be irresponsible not to restrict their use, writes the environment secretary, Michael Gove

Two principles guide this government’s approach to the natural world. We want not just to protect but to enhance the environment. And we want our decisions to be informed at all times by rigorous scientific evidence.

Which is why when the science shows that our environment is in increasing danger we have to act. Like many others, I was deeply concerned by a recently published German study into the health of some insect populations. The Guardian covered the report in depth, not least because the statistics were so stark. Data gathered over 25 years appeared to indicate a 75% fall in the numbers of flying insects within those sites.

Environmental change on such a scale is profoundly worrying. Not least because of the critical role played by bees and other pollinators. These particular flying insects are absolutely critical to the health of the natural world. Without a healthy pollinator population we put the whole ecological balance of our world in danger.

Official biodiversity indicators show that the pollinator population has been in a state of overall decline since 1987. Although 29% of bee species increased over that period, 49% declined. Other evidence suggests more than half of solitary bees have declined.

And as is always the case, a deteriorating environment is ultimately bad economic news as well. Pollinators contribute somewhere between £400-680m every year to agricultural productivity, benefitting both the yield and the quality of crops. For example, gala apple growers are already spending £5.7m a year to do the work that natural pollinators should be doing, while for some crops like field beans there is evidence that a deficit in pollinator numbers is already having an adverse effect.

Where there is evidence that human activity is contributing to pollinator decline, we have a duty to act. Among the potential threats to pollinators are neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide. A recent report found that 75% of honey samples collected around the world contained neonicotinoids. However, the impact on bee health of the prevalence of neonicotinoids has been disputed.

In 2013, the European Commission proposed a ban on the use of three types of neonicotinoids on flowering crops. At that time, the UK’s assessment was that there was insufficient evidence of a link between neonicotinoids and pollinator decline, but other member states took a different view and a ban was implemented across the EU.