The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is extremely disappointed to hear that the neonicotinoid Thiamethoxam has been granted a derogation for emergency use on sugar beet crops in England during 2021. Neonicotinoids including Thiamethoxam have been shown to cause harm to bumblebees and other pollinators, which led to their use on flowering crops being restricted across Europe from 2013, and banned for outdoor use across Europe in 2018. We fully support these restrictions and our position remains that we do not want to see harmful pesticides being used that put bumblebees at risk.
In this particular case the potential harm to bumblebees is reduced as the insecticide is applied as a seed dressing (rather than an in-field treatment such as a spray), and sugar beet is a non-flowering crop. Risks to bumblebees in this case are through the leaching of the active ingredient from the crop into wildflowers in and around the field margins. To combat this, the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides has suggested removing the flowers (such as pollinator-friendly margins) in and around neonicotinoid-treated sugar beet fields. Although this does mean that bumblebees and other pollinators will be less exposed to insecticides in their food, it does have the potentially greater impact that there will be virtually no flowers at all in these areas, increasing the pressure on pollinators which already struggle to find food in our impoverished agricultural landscapes.
Neonicotinoids are well-known for their environmental mobility and can cause harm to other animals (such as invertebrates within the soil) and aquatic life in nearby watercourses, both of which are likely to be more at risk than bees in this particular case. The Secretary of State mentioned that these risks were assessed and deemed acceptable, but it is not clear what ‘acceptable risks’ are in this case, or how the active ingredient will be prevented from contaminating nearby land and water courses.
Below we have set out some key points to answer some key concerns and questions:
Is this decision Brexit related?
We understand that the relevant legislation has not changed since the UK left the EU and this application could have been made at any time (a similar one was rejected in 2018, and another was granted on a proportion of oilseed rape crops in 2015). There have been several equivalent applications granted recently in a range of EU members states. The ban on neonicotinoid usage derives from the UK’s membership of the EU and is now part of UK law.
Are the Bumblebee Conservation Trust asking the government to reverse the decision?
Yes. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has joined forces with several other environmental organisations to write to the DEFRA Secretary of State to ask the UK government to reverse this decision. The letter is available here.
What can people do?
If you are concerned about this decision, you can write to your MP and share links to this statement and the letter we sent to the DEFRA Secretary for State. A number of public petitions have been set up to encourage the Government to reverse the decision.