Pesticides ban to impact UK agriculture

RESTRICTING the use of pesticides containing neonicotinoid amid fears they are a cause of declining bee populations will have serious implications for UK farmers, say experts at Shropshire’s Harper Adams University.

News that farmers have been banned by the European Union (EU) from using three neonicotinoid insecticides – imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin - for two years has been welcomed by environmentalists.

But some argue there is insufficient scientific evidence to show the chemicals are to blame and claim the decline in bee numbers is due to a number of factors.

Despite the on-going debate, it is clear the suspension will have consequences for the British farming community.

Dr Tom Pope, Research Entomologist at Harper Adam near Newport, said: “This week the EU announced that the use of three neonicotinoids will be restricted for a period of two years. The decision has been taken following the publication of a report by the European Food Safety Agency, which concluded that these insecticides posed a ‘high acute risk’ to pollinators.

“As a plant germinates, neonicotinoid in the seed coating moves into the stem and leaves of the growing plant. Later as the plant flowers the insecticide is found in tiny amounts in the pollen and nectar.

“The neonicotinoid in the stem and leaves of the plant provides protection against important pests, such as peach-potato aphid, but once in the pollen and nectar, the insecticide may be eaten by insect pollinators.

“It is this final point that has raised concerns that these insecticides may be harming pollinating insects.

“Restricting the use of neonicotinoid insecticides will have important implications for UK agriculture. These challenges will include continuing to effectively control key pests while at the same time managing insecticide resistance with a reduced number of modes of action.

“Farmers have until December 1, 2013 to reassess their pest management options in light of the announcement on neonicotinoid insecticides this week.”

The latest winter-loss survey for honeybees in the UK (2011-2012) suggests that on average 20 per cent of all honeybee colonies died out over the winter period in the UK.

But with honeybees playing such a vital role in our ecosystems and food supply, it is important that we quickly understand and attempt to reverse the decline in numbers.

Simon Irvin, Associate Head of Department – Crop & Environment Sciences at Harper Adams, said: “The past few years have seen a massive increase in the number of people interested in beekeeping. This increased interest was evident at the recent British Beekeepers Association – Spring Convention held at Harper Adams University.

“While beekeeping is undoubtedly a fascinating hobby in its own right, a significant number of people have become involved in beekeeping in response to reports that honeybee numbers are in decline.

“Recently the threats facing honeybees and other pollinating insects, such as bumblebees, have been the focus of much research. The importance of this work is clear when we consider that pollination is needed for about three-quarters of global food crops.

“Threats such as the parasitic mite Varroa destructor are well known to beekeepers, who use a range of techniques to reduce mite populations within the hive. Beekeepers know only too well that if left unmanaged, Varroa is capable of devastating honeybee colonies.

“However, while Varroa is a key pest affecting honeybees, it is likely that a combination of factors is behind the decline in pollinators as a whole.”

ENDS

Sarah Swinnerton
Harper Adams University Press Office
Newport, Shropshire
01952 815291

Harper Adams University is the UK's leading specialist provider of higher education for the rural and land-based industries. Our mission is to deliver higher education and research for the delivery of a sustainable food chain and rural economy. To see how Harper Adams can help you, visit www.harper-adams.ac.uk 

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Harper Adams University College is the UK’s leading provider of specialist higher education and research for the food chain, rural and land-based industries. Undergraduate, postgraduate and PHD subjects cover every aspect of food production, from agricultural engineering to food marketing, land management and animal health and welfare. For more information visit www.harper-adams.ac.uk