Back to blog listings

Working for a ban on bee-harming pesticides in Devon

Posted: Wednesday 16th March 2016 by HarryBarton

BeeBee © Darin Smith

DWT Chief Executive Harry Barton speaks up for pollinators...

On Monday 7 March, DWT Chief Executive Harry Barton spoke to Devon County Councillors in favour of a motion that could help bees and other pollinators in Devon.

A motion had been proposed to ban the use of neo-nicotinoid pesticides on all Devon County Council-owned land, including parks, school grounds and road verges – and to recommend the pesticides be no longer used by farm tenants on DCC-owned land.

Harmful chemicals

Numerous studies now show neo-nics to have damaging impacts on bumblebees’ ability to pollinate fruit crops; to be convincingly linked to declines in farmland butterflies and insect-eating birds; and to impact on pollinators from wildflowers, not just from crops.

Harry spoke at County Hall in favour of the motion to ban use of neo-nics. He was speaking on behalf of a coalition of Devon Wildlife Trust, Devon Women’s Institute, Buglife and Friends of the Earth, all of whom had promoted a petition on the FoE website calling on Devon residents to support the ban.

Here’s how Harry spoke up for Devon’s bees and other pollinators:

“I am speaking to urge Devon County Council to take a stand and to ban the use of neonicotinoids – or neonics – on its land. This is a critical challenge for our time and one where leadership is just so important.

Buff-tailed bumblebee by Chris Root

The first reason is that there is a great deal of public support. 1660 Devon residents have signed the petition. But we know that there is strong support for the ban UK wide. Over 500,000 people signed a petition opposing the partial lifting of the ban last summer.

The second reason is that the science is increasingly clear. The European Food Safety Authority found a high acute risk to honey bees from three neonics being used on crops attractive to bees.

Since then over 1000 scientific papers have been peer reviewed, with the conclusion that neonics are having widespread impacts on earthworms, birds and butterflies as well as bees and other insects.

A well-publicised study in the Netherlands showed that 15 species of insectivorous birds, including the swallow and tree sparrow – declined by 3% per annum even at relatively low levels of use.

The same study found that 95% of these chemicals ended up in the wider environment, and that use of neonics accounted for a much higher proportion of farmland bird decline than any other factor.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly by Chris Root

We also know that neonics find their way into wildflower meadows sown around the edge of fields, and thus the insects that feed off them.

There is no evidence to date that stopping using neonics will cause major problems to the farming industry. It is well known that yields of Oil Seed Rape were higher that the ten year average in the year when the moratorium on neonics was in force. And there are plenty of alternatives to the use of neonics in managing crops and crop pests.

There is currently a moratorium in place on neonics, although this has been partly lifted. But neonics are still being widely used, because the moratorium only applies to three of the five chemicals widely used by farmers, and it only applies to some crops – a notable omission being wheat. And we know that coating seeds can still lead to the chemicals being found in the wider environment.

DCC has produced a useful Pollinators Action Plan. We support this. But we feel it needs to be bolstered by a commitment to move away from neonics.

This is a really tough problem, and it needs really tough action if we want to save our bees, our insects and our birds.

Red-tailed bumblebee by Chris Root

DCC may not own or directly control a large amount of farmland. But it has a sizeable County Farms estate, parks, school grounds and other green space. It is also responsible for thousands of miles of roadside verge.

More important though, it carries a powerful voice, and implementing a ban would send a very firm message.

This is an opportunity to show real leadership with minimal risk. They can do it Sussex and in Paris, we can do it here.”


Take action now

While the Cabinet of Devon County Council considers the recommendation to ban neo-nics you can still sign the petition here, calling on the council to help Devon’s bees. 

Read HarryBarton's latest blog entries.


There are currently no comments, why not be the first.

    Post a comment