Bees and Neonicotinoids
I am in no doubt about the importance of pollinators to our food supply, biodiversity and economy and I share the widespread concern about the decline in bee numbers. A great many people have signed a petition calling on the Government to halt the use of neonicotinoids on crops. Bristol West had the highest number of signatories to this petition out of all constituencies.
The European Commission announced in 2013 that it would restrict the use of neonicotinoids to crops that are not attractive to bees and other pollinators after the European Food Safety Authority concluded that 3 commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides pose an unacceptable danger to bees. The Coalition Government initially opposed the ban.
I appreciate there are many reasons for the decline of pollinators, including habitat loss, climate change and pests and diseases. However, I also appreciate that more evidence has appeared recently which emphasises the risk of neonicotinoids to bees. I therefore support the European-wide ban because I believe it is a proportionate response to the evidence. I also appreciate that more evidence – including the research from Sussex University – has appeared since the EU introduced its restrictions which emphasises the risk of these pesticides to bees.
However, as you know, the current Government approved an application for the ban to be lifted this autumn to allow chemicals to be sprayed on rapeseed to help prevent crop damage. I believe the Government ignored the harm these pesticides cause to bees. It is vital to take a science-led approach to pesticide use and to consider how best to support farmers, protect wildlife and reverse the decline of pollinators.
The Government is providing £900 million through its Countryside Stewardship scheme, which offers payments to farmers for taking actions for pollinators. However, I am concerned the new 'greening' requirements of the scheme are not being implemented properly and there is no guarantee it will deliver improvements for pollinators. I also believe the Government's national pollinator strategy, which was published last year, does not go far enough. It does not, for example, tackle habitat destruction, damaging farming practices, bad planning decisions and neonicotinoid use, which are the primary causes of pollinator decline. I would like to see more effort from the Government in creating better farm habitats and in assessing alternatives to neonicotinoids, such as redesigning crop rotations.
The European Commission is currently reviewing the evidence and will look at the effects on bees from seed treatment and granule uses of the restricted neonicotinoids on any crop. The Government say it will base its view on future regulation on all the available scientific evidence. I am pleased the Government now seem to have an open mind to considering the evidence, especially given their previous opposition to the ban.
Earlier this year I wrote to the Secretary of State for DEFRA, Elizabeth Truss, to relay the concerns of the hundreds of constituents who have contacted me on this issue. In addition, I am working with organisations such as Avon Wildlife Trust on a local pollinator strategy to make our city more hospitable to pollinating insects. I have also joined the recently-established All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bees.