Defra Secretary Michael Gove today (9 November) said that recent scientific evidence shows the acute environmental risk posed by neonicotinoids. Some bee species are thought to have declined by up to 30% in the last 20 years due to the use of neonics on plants and crops. 

Since 2013, the EU has banned three neonics on a number of crops attractive to bees, such as oilseed rape. EU policymakers are now calling for a total ban on their use outside of greenhouses, with a vote expected before Christmas.

Further restrictions will be maintained after Britain’s departure from the EU, insisted Gove, as part of his vision for a “Green Brexit”.

Gove said: “The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment, particularly to the bees and other pollinators which play such a key part in our £100bn food industry, is greater than previously understood.

“I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk.”

Research suggests that 1,500 species of pollinators boost the UK’s economy by £400-680m a year through improved productivity. Gove said he was keen to work with farmers to explore alternative approaches to grow crops without neonics as the UK moves ahead with a new agricultural policy.

‘Lessons to be learned’

Garden retailers across the country have come under increased pressure to stop the sale of plants using pesticides linked to bee decline, with more than three-quarters of UK citizens said to oppose the practice.

In May, B&Q became the first home improvement retailer to announce it will grow its flowering plant range free from all neonics.

Research this summer revealed that plants laced with toxic neonics were being sold in British garden centres including Aldi and Homebase. Friends of the Earth subsequently undertook a further investigation into the work of the 10 largest garden retailers in the UK, with the campaign group clashing with Homebase for failing to publicly tell their suppliers not to use the toxic chemicals.

Welcoming today’s announcement, Friends of the Earth’s chief executive Craig Bennett said: “Michael Gove is to be congratulated for listening to the experts. The scientific evidence for a complete ban on bee-harming pesticides is now overwhelming. 

He added: “But lessons also need to be learned – we now need to move away from chemical intensive farming and instead boost support for less damaging ways of tackling persistent weeds and pests.”

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie