Major retailers using toxic pesticides in garden plants, study finds

Top retailers such as Aldi and Homebase have been called upon to take urgent action as research shows that plants laced with toxic pesticides are being sold in British garden centres.

Some bee species are thought to have declined by up to 30% in the last 20 years due to the use of neonic pesticides on plants and crops

Some bee species are thought to have declined by up to 30% in the last 20 years due to the use of neonic pesticides on plants and crops

A scientific study carried out by at Sussex University examined pesticide traces in 29 plants, 15 of which bore the Royal Horticultural Society's ‘perfect for pollinators’ label. The research found that more than 70% contained neonicotinoid pesticides – including three pesticides restricted across Europe that have been found to pose a ‘high acute risk’ to honeybees.

The tests were conducted on plants from firms in the East Sussex area, including Aldi, Wyevale and Homebase, in addition to a smaller garden centre. Non-profit organisation Friends of the Earth (FoE) has urged these retailers to investigate their supply chain and commit to banning pesticides from their plants.

“Green-minded gardeners will be understandably concerned that some stores and garden centres are selling plants treated with pesticides linked to bee decline - including some plants that are labelled as ‘pollinator friendly’,” FoE bee campaigner Nick Rau said.

“Retailers should urgently investigate their supply chains and make it clear to growers that they don’t want these chemicals in their plants.

'Russian roulette'

Neonics have been in use for more than 20 years and are linked to serious harm in bees. Some bee species are thought to have declined by up to 30% in the last 20 years due to the use of neonic pesticides on plants and crops. 

The Sussex Uni study found variable combinations of neonics in pollen and nectar of the plants, with scientists warning that purchasers are playing “russian roulette” with their garden pollinators. Leading bee expert Professor Dave Goulson, who led the research, is calling on retailers to introduce clearer labelling for plant ranges.

B&Q last week became the first home improvement retailer to announce it will grow its flowering plant range free from all neonics. FoE has since launched an online petition to encourage Homebase and Wyevale to follow suit.

A recent UN report argued that it was a myth that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing population. The EU is set to take action on neonic pesticides in the upcoming months, with proposals calling for a complete ban on the most harmful substances in fields. This follows a Europe-wide ban three years ago on crops attractive to bees. More than 80% of the British public want the UK to keep the ban when it leaves the EU, a recent poll found.

Retailers Aldi, Homebase and Wyevale have all been approached for comment.

George Ogleby


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