/ Home & Energy

Think of the bees: do you use neonicotinoid pesticides?

Two bees on a honeycomb

The battle for a ban on neonicotinoids is still going strong. Manufacturers of the chemicals claim that gardeners following the instructions will do no harm to bees. But do you always read the instructions?

The debate about neonicotinoids, the pesticides implicated in the decline of bees, rages on. Waitrose is the latest company to take action, banning its suppliers from using neonicotinoid pesticides while more evidence is gathered about their impact on the environment.

Manufacturers insist that products designed for use in gardens will not harm bees if they’re used according to the instructions. But do people actually follow the instructions on a label? We surveyed over 1,000 people to find out.

Around seven in 10 people told us that they have used an insecticide, and around a quarter have bought one in the last 12 months. Around nine in 10 who had bought an insecticide say that they do read the usage advice and follow it. Two thirds told us that they are aware that there is specific safety advice about spraying insecticides carefully to avoid harming bees.

Bee careful with chemicals

I’m impressed. The advice around spraying is pretty specific – you should spray in the evening, when bees are less likely to be around, or when plants are in full flower. I don’t use sprays, but I’m lousy at reading instructions. I would have thought that if someone sees some greenfly munching on their plant, they’d just reach for a product right away.

Maybe Which? members are just very engaged in this issue. And let’s not ignore the fact that around a quarter of people said they were not aware of the safety advice, so could be spraying incorrectly.

Our survey yielded some interesting bee-friendly comments. ‘Bees are more important than greenfly,’ said one respondent. While another said: ‘I try to spray late in the day and when the bees have settled for the evening’. Another commented: ‘I’ve only recently become aware of the effects of insecticides on the bee population. I shall not be using them in future in my garden’.

Are you less inclined to use sprays these days, or have you stopped using them altogether? Do you consider them safe? Or maybe you just don’t care about bees? One respondent admitted that they didn’t like bees, and had sprayed a bumble bee directly to kill it.

richard says:
13 April 2013

I only use natural fertilizers created by my own compost heaps – Have done so since I realised the damage that commercial products did to the environment – The destruction of insects (and hence wildlife) has been appalling – I was a small holder for a short time – and a keen entomologist since WW2.


Many products containing neonicotinoids have already disappeared from the shelves of garden centres, so home use may not be a problem for much longer.

Unwanted garden chemicals can be taken to council waste facilities for safe disposal. I got rid of a large collection of old garden chemicals (some of them now banned) when clearing out my late father’s garden shed.

Amanda says:
14 April 2013

With regard to insectides such as neonicotinoids, it’s worth asking : If it kills this ‘pest’ what else does it kill?

In the case of neonicotinoids, they have a particular mode of action – they pemeate the whole plant (they are systemic) and therefore contaminate nectar and pollen. The chemical doesn’t disintegrate/biodegrade/dissipate – they contaminate soil and persist for years. This is why independent scientists would like to see a ban on neonics in household pesticides.

It’s worth looking at some of the information manufacturers use to promote their products for ‘pests’ as well as their patents – see http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/neonicotinoid-pesticides-and-non-target-insects.html

and http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/how-do-neonicotinoids-work.html

Also, most of the neonicotinoids in household pesticides HAVE NOT disappeared from shelves – only the ones that were investigated by EFSA. Most neonics remain on the market. It may be some time before EFSA investigate the remaining chemicals – but for a list of neonics see this helpful link:



The same criticism can be applied to other systemic pesticides. In most cases, what is harmful to one form of life is harmful to others. The neonicontinoids were developed to be less harmful than organophosphates to humans, but they are certainly not specific to bees. There have to be better ways of dealing with pests than treating garden plants with chemicals.

I stand corrected if most of the neonicotinoids are still on the shelves at garden centres, etc. That’s just what I have been told by friends who are keen gardeners and aware of the problem.

B C Thomas says:
14 April 2013

If you could give some idea as to the materials which contain neonicontinoids, then I might be able to answer your questions.

Che Guebuddha says:
15 April 2013

I will be using aerobic compost tea, manual removal, phisical fencing, covering with a net and cloth, covering soil with hey and wood chips to encourage biodiversity of microorganisms etc, planting lots of flowers to encourage Ladiebirds and other kind of pest eating beasties and planting diverse crops rather than one crop. Mono crop agriculture is part of the past. Some still have to realise this but surelly they are getting there 🙂 Biodiverse Agriculture is the future 🙂 The more diverse the crops on one patch of land the less pest problems there are.


Ladybirds eating pests such as aphids is an example of biological control. There are many others.

I was promoting use of biological control rather than chemical pesticides in the previous conversation, but for some reason I received a lot of criticism.


I certainly endorse biological control and natural predation. There needs to be more education in these matters. Having moved to a new area recently we have left behind our excellent garden centre which was run by horticulturists and are now using a much bigger one run on much more commercial and “lazy gardening” lines. I was appalled to see the vast range of chemical products displayed and the quantities being purchased. The amount of selling space devoted to these lines indicates the profit value of the stock.