Unintended Consequences

A poisoned well
I’ve blogged before about neonicotinoids. These are a new generation of systemic pesticides which are being associated with increasing confidence to declining numbers of bees. They were originally used by farmers, particularly in the U.S., who used coated seeds. One of the shocking things about neonicotinoids is that they weren’t properly tested before they were approved and it is only since their introduction that work has been done to show the effects they have. Yesterday we saw the publication of two papers, one from the respected bumblebee experts at Stirling University, which “add weight to a growing body of evidence which suggests that neonicotinoid pesticides may be partially responsible for the declines in populations of both wild bumblebees and domesticated honeybees”. (Bumblebee Conservation Trust)

Some folk have even gone so far as to suggest that neonicotinoids are the single “smoking gun” behind bee losses*, and a huge amount of heat and light has been generated by the debate. Organizations like the Soil Association and invertebrate charity Buglife have repeatedly and unsuccessfully campaigned for them to be banned in the UK, but these chemicals are still the active ingredient in some commonly used household as well as agricultural pesticides.

This is really bad news as gardens are generally great places for insects to be. If you use pyrethroid insecticides in your garden you can kill the “pests” while mitigating the effects on some “good” insects like bees by spraying plants while not in flower, on still evenings. The problem with neonicotinoid insecticides is that even if you follow that advice IT WON’T HELP. The bees are affected by the contaminated pollen and nectar from the plants being sprayed, so whether you spray them directly or not they’re going to cop it, just more slowly.

While the government continues to drag its feet and some gardeners feel they have to use pesticides the least we can do is to make these chemicals harder for them to buy inadvertently. The Soil Association has provided a good list of household products which include neonicotinoids on its website. Bayer have a range of pesticides called Provado, for example, which includes a neonicotinoid called thiacloprid. How would any consumer wandering into an online or local gardening centre know the problems it will cause? Google Provado and you won’t find any mention of its unwelcome effects for several pages. The reviews on Amazon are all glowing (other than the ones I added!).

Wherever you find neonicotinoid based pesticides like Provado please ask the retailer to stop selling them.

*which scientific opinion generally says not; they are one of several problems, but at least one that can be easily fixed.