/ 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

Iโ€™m impressed. The advice around spraying is pretty specific โ€“ you should spray in the evening, when bees are less likely to be around, or when plants are in full flower. I donโ€™t use sprays, but Iโ€™m lousy at reading instructions. I would have thought that if someone sees some greenfly munching on their plant, theyโ€™d just reach for a product right away.

Maybe Which? members are just very engaged in this issue. And letโ€™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. โ€˜Bees are more important than greenfly,โ€™ said one respondent. While another said: โ€˜I try to spray late in the day and when the bees have settled for the eveningโ€™. Another commented: โ€˜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 gardenโ€™.

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 donโ€™t care about bees? One respondent admitted that they didnโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚ Biodiverse Agriculture is the future ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.

It looks like an EU moratorium for neonicotinoids is on its way:


Che Guebuddha says:
29 April 2013

Yes yes yeeesss! Me sooo happy! ๐Ÿ™‚ fantastic news

This is a start, but the ban covers only three of the commercially available neonicotinoids. I fear that the ban could encourage use of other neonicotinoids, or use of other harmful pesticides.

We need to move away from using non-selective toxic chemicals, which means finding safe ways of controlling pests.

Che Guebuddha says:
30 April 2013

What we need is to ban mono-crop agriculture which is adicted to pesticides. What we need is a government which actually care for its people and the environment!

Government which will encourage small scale local organic farming based on biodiversity.

The no-dig farmers have demonstrated that permanent raised beds covered with hay and wood chips doesnt need watering. Cover method keeps weeds at bay and feed myriads of microorganisms which in return protect the plant roots. Such cover is broken into humus creating “black gold” compost soil. Such soil is teaming with life which is balancing the pests. Soil Food Web!

It is very easy to gather small scale organic local farmers by lowering taxses for all those growing organically in a eco friendly way.

Crop rotation is helpful but not necessery if one covers the soil with various organic materials (hay/wood chips). Cover method introduces various plants into the soil through decomposition creating a biodiverse effect.

Over the soil companion planting is needed and in some cases covering the crops with flee e and netting, creating fencing for keeping out slugs, rabbits, dear …

Large scale mono-crop agriculture is the main problem. The solution is small scale organic farming. Like this many homesteaders will be mobilised and suddenly more work is available.

Banning Neonics is just the first punch! Fasten the seat belts, because the second wave will be a Tsunami for the entire pesticide industry ๐Ÿ˜‰ we are not giving up! This Earth and life on it is of great importance!

Light up the darkness!

This Conversation is about insecticides used by gardeners.

Che Guebuddha says:
30 April 2013

So I guess you dont agree with my reply then ๐Ÿ˜‰ You talk of non-systematic pesticides not being good solution and Im suggesting that mono-crop agriculture is the main problem for pesticide use in the first place.
What in your reply was on topic? The topic is about whether or not you rad instructions on the pesticide package ๐Ÿ˜‰
The use of pesticides goses hand in hand with no use of pesticides.

Gardeners defenetly dont need pesticides since its small scale in question. Applying aerobic compost tea over the grass will keep healthy soil and will keep weeds at bay. Its been demonstrated by those preserving the Soil Food Web.

Gardeners need not look at pesticides; covering the soil will minimise weeds, will keep soil moist minimising irrigation and the decomposing cover material will keep soil healthy retaining all nutrients within the soil so no nutrient leakage can occur.

The question of pesticides doesnt have only one silver bullet answer. Nature is biodiverse hence many puzzles make the whole pesticide free picture.

You seem to have dificulties to understand this because you are not looking at the issue with a holistic mind but rather with “how to fight against nature”. The more you fight against it the worse it will be (as Neonics have already demonstrated).

If you dont like this conversation you have the freedom to leave it but dont try playing internet police with me boyo ๐Ÿ˜‰

Kind regards?

I am merely realistic. You have grand ideas and I don’t disagree that we have to change, but revolution will not happen overnight. We would both like chemical pesticides removed from sale in garden centres, but I very much doubt that this will happen in the near future.

I am interested in this Conversation and hope that more people join in. It is important that we raise awareness of the issue.

Let us all be polite to each other. ๐Ÿ™‚

Che Guebuddha says:
30 April 2013

You say you are realistic so what does that make me (since you didnt say “we” are realistic) , delusional … ignorant … naive … what?

What does realistic even mean? Reaility is in a constant flux hence trying to solidify a state of mind into a solid “realistic” state is agaist the impermanent nature of all phenomena in any given moment.

So what is a realistic mind but a mind conditioned with dead knowledge usually based on fear. Realistic mind not necesserely a wise mind.

Im merely intuitive. Hence feeling the imbalance caused by ignorance n greed on this planet we live on.

Yes we want the pesticides off the shelves and off our soil ๐Ÿ™‚ raising awareness is of great importance especially now that EU banned some of the Neonics. Now its not time to relax but lobby harder for total ban of pesticides. We are getting there though ๐Ÿ™‚

May you be happy at heart ๐Ÿ™‚

I believe I am realistic because I do not believe that there is an immediate solution to the problems caused by systemic pesticides. The real issue, of course, is agricultural use and that is a vastly greater problem than what you or I do in our gardens.

Here is a short video by Garden Organic, highlighting the fact that the EU moratorium is only a first step in cutting our dependence on chemical pesticides.