It’s been a tough few years for bees, with numbers dropping in the UK and internationally. Could agricultural insecticides be to blame? Do you use insecticides to keep your garden pest-free?
Everyone agrees that bee numbers are in decline, but the reasons why are still hotly debated.
It’s likely that there are several factors at work, but one that’s been in the frame for a while is a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids. They’re used on some crops and can also be found in many garden pesticides. They’ve already been banned in several countries, including France.
Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to suspend three neonicotinoids from sale and to overhaul pesticide safety tests, which it says are inadequate. It also wants David Cameron to urgently implement a Bee Action Plan. The campaign has been given a boost by a recent European Food Standards Authority Report, which suggests that neonicotinoids pose a risk to bees.
Banishing the bug killers
B&Q and Homebase have recently announced that they’re removing Bayer Lawn Grub Killer from their shelves and Wickes is withdrawing Westland Plant Rescue Bug Killer, both of which contain neonicotinoids. But there are at least 20 more products that contain these chemicals, many of them popular insecticides, and there are, as yet, no plans to withdraw these. A full list of pesticides containing neonicotinoids can be found at pan-uk.org.
Manufacturers insist that pesticides are safe if used according to the label – but does everyone read the label? Even if you do, the wording about bees and the warning not to spray plants in flower or when bees are likely to be flying around is often so small that it could easily go unnoticed.
Dr Ken Thompson, wildlife expert and Which? Gardening contributor, says:
‘Neonics are very effective pesticides, so I can understand the temptation to use them. But they get into pollen and nectar, so you are likely to feed them to your bees, however careful you are. My advice would be to think very hard about whether you really need to use insecticides at all, and then use them only as a last resort. And if at all possible, do not use insecticides on or near plants with flowers that are visited by bees.’
I haven’t had to think about it much at all – I don’t use insecticides. Anything that’s labelled a ‘bug killer’ will kill any bug, not just bad ones. Bees need all the help they can get, so surely anything that is thought to harm them should be withdrawn as a precaution?
Do you use insecticides and if so, do you read the label? Do you think neonicotinoids should be banned?