Wildlife trust 'alarmed' by return of banned bee-harming pesticide

Bumblebee on a poppy

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has criticised the government's decision to approve the emergency temporary use of neonicotinoid pesticides, previously banned due to fears over their impact on the health of bees - Credit: Chris Gomersall / 2020 Vision

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has criticised an "alarming" government decision to allow some farmers to temporarily use pesticides previously banned over fears they could be killing bees.

East Anglia's sugar beet growers have been granted an emergency authorisation to use neonicotinoid seed treatments to kill aphids carrying virus yellows disease - a disease which destroyed many plants last year and poses a significant threat to the 2021 crop.

The chemicals were banned in 2019 due to fears over their impact on the health of bees and pollinators.

Defra agreed with farming groups who said neonicotinoids were the only way to combat a "very real threat to the sugar beet industry", and said stringent controls would be in place to ensure the chemicals are not absorbed into flowering plants which could attract bees.

Pamela Abbott, chief execuive of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Picture: Steve Adams

Pamela Abbott, chief executive of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust - Credit: Steve Adams

But Pamela Abbott, chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said there was an urgent need to reduce the use of pesticides to reverse drastic declines of insect and pollinator populations.

"The evidence of the devastating impact this group of pesticides is having on our wildlife is growing, as is public awareness of the associated ecological crisis," she said.

"Hundreds of thousands of people came together across Britain over the last decade to call for better protection of our bee populations, and for these highly toxic pesticides to be banned.

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"We need urgent action to restore the abundance of our insect populations and this is an alarming move which will destroy the species we all depend on for the health of our natural world."

The government issued a statement which says as sugar beet is a non-flowering plant, the risk to bees from the crop itself is "acceptable", while herbicides must be used to kill flowering weeds in and around the crop. Other restrictions include that no flowering crop is to be planted within 22 months of the sugar beet crop.

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The emergency temporary authorisation for sugar beet in 2021 was welcomed by growers and by British Sugar. 

South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss said some farmers she visited in her constituency last autumn had reported crop losses of up to 80pc from the virus.

"If no action was taken in 2021, then farmers would be facing a similar issue this year," she said. 

"Cultivation of sugar beet is particularly high in East Anglia with three large factories processing the crop.

"It is therefore incredibly important to the local economy as well as the significant export revenues it generates."

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