This January, the environment secretary George Eustice approved the ‘controlled and limited’ reintroduction of the harmful pesticide neonicotinoid thiamethoxam in the sugar beet farming industry.

It followed a secret letter by 1200 members of the National Farmers Union (NFU) written in December, lobbying for the pesticide’s reintroduction for ‘emergency use’. Thiamethoxam was banned in 2018 after a study proved that it damaged bee populations, possibly by affecting their brain development and immune systems.

But the NFU argue that being able to use thiamethoxam is vital to ensure good crop yields in light of the rising spread of the yellow beet virus in the last three years due to warmer winters. 

However, the scientific consensus is that the long term damage of reducing populations of vital natural pollinators like bees outweighs the damage posed by pests. The news comes amidst increased calls for the UK to reduce its pesticide levels as research has shown that healthy insect populations are vital for maintaining biodiversity: 70 out of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food worldwide are pollinated by bees and other insects, which act as pollinators. Insects are also a crucial constituent for the food chain, feeding many species of birds for example. Yet the UK bee population is believed to have decreased by a third in just the last decade and with it some bird species like the red-backed shrike which feeds on beetles have become extinct in the UK.

The government’s permission was granted after the UK completed its departure from the EU in December and there are concerns that there is a dangerous precedent for further relaxation of laws now the UK is no longer bound by the EU’s environmental regulations - possibly the most eco friendly in the world. 

The comedian and TV presenter Sue Perkins expressed her dismay at the government’s decision, which contradicted a statement by Michael Gove in 2017 who was at that time environment secretary. She wrote on Twitter: 

‘2017: “the principal public good we will invest in is environmental enhancement.” Gove. 2020: Introducing banned pesticides that harm bees.’

 

While the use of neonicotinoids is for the moment confined to the East of England, it is important that the public take a stand against the use of these harmful pesticides before their use spreads further to the South East. Such an event would drive endangered creatures like hedgehogs away from their preferred habitats and into urban areas like Greater London, in the hope of avoiding the pesticides. However, urban areas are not desirable areas for many animals given the threat posed by cars, lack of green space and human interference.

The Wildlife Trusts, who have 46 regional branches across the UK (including in London and Surrey) strongly oppose the decision and have created a petition which you may wish to sign.

https://action.wildlifetrusts.org/page/74049/data/1?locale=en-GB

Another prominent petition can be found here: http://chng.it/vZWDCx6Mnz