‘Potentially ​​deadly’ pesticide use in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk sparks fears for future of precious bees

A bee at work. Photo: James Betts, via www.flickr.com/photos/14730981@N08/?
A bee at work. Photo: James Betts, via www.flickr.com/photos/14730981@N08/?
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An environmental campaigner is raising awareness of the potentially deadly dangers of pesticide treated seeds after ​Cambridgeshire and Suffolk farmers were controversially given the green light to use them.

Cambridgeshire and Suffolk ​are two of four English counties granted permission to use previously blacklisted neonicotinoid-treated oilseed rape seeds.

But the impact the pesticide - a relative of highly addictive nicotine - could have on wildlife and, in particular, struggling bees could be potentially lethal to the declining population.

Chairman of the Christian environmental charity Operation Noah Nicky Bull, whose husband keeps bees, said the risk is too great.

“I think the ‘precautionary principle’ is a very important one,” she said. “If you don’t know the consequences you don’t take the risk. You air on the side of safety.”

Bees and other pollinators are essential for many crops but are in decline due to pesticides, loss of habitat and disease.

Around a third of the food we eat, including beans, brassicas such as cabbage or broccoli, tomatoes, apples and strawberries rely, either directly or indirectly, on insect pollination.

Nicky said she is aiming to raise awareness of the latest threat alongside other environmental campaigners.

It is claimed that toxic neonicotinoid impair bees’ communication, homing and foraging ability, flight activity, ability to discriminate by smell, learning and immune systems - all of which have an impact on their survival.

The National Farmers Union’s request for a lift on the ban of neonicotinoid-treated rapeseed was approved by Defra last month.

The pesticide is being used by farmers in their struggle against flea beetle and the union disputes claims that the chemical kills pollinators.

Seeds are covered in the pesticide, which is then absorbed by the plant as it grows, making it resistant to bugs and viruses.

In December 2013, the European Commission issued a two-year ban on the chemical to allow time for additional data to be collected about its impact.

Nicky, who is looking forward to her first harvest of honey this year, said: “It does seem to me that for the government to allow even limited use of something on which they have placed a ban, which is due to run until December, seems to fly in the face of good scientific procedure.”

But the National Farmers Union say it is not a cut and dry case.

A spokesman said: “Much of the evidence around the harmful effects of neonicotinoids relies on studies where bees have been dosed artificially with the insecticide. The big unanswered question remains whether the harmful impacts observed in studies based on artificially dosing bees, occur in real-life field situations and cause the population declines we are all so concerned about.

“A Swedish study earlier this year did find harmful impacts on wild bees (but not honeybees) in real fields, but does this mean neonicotinoids are causing widespread declines in bee populations? or does it just mean that insecticide-treated fields can be inhospitable places for insects?”

​The other counties given permission to use the pesticide are Hertfordshire, Bedfordshi​re​.