Press release

Environment Secretary backs further restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides

Michael Gove says the UK supports further restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids due to their effects on bees and other pollinators.

Bee resting on a flower

Tougher restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides are justified by the growing weight of scientific evidence they are harmful to bees and other pollinators, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said today.

Setting out the UK’s position, the Secretary of State said the UK supports further restrictions on the use of these pesticides. Unless the scientific evidence changes, the government will maintain these increased restrictions post-Brexit.

This follows advice from the UK government’s advisory body on pesticides which said scientific evidence now suggests the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoids – particularly to our bees and pollinators – are greater than previously understood, supporting the case for further restrictions.

Research estimates the value of the UK’s 1,500 species of pollinators to crops at £400-680million per year due to improved productivity.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

I have set out our vision for a Green Brexit in which environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced.

I’ve always been clear I will be led by the science on this matter. 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.

I recognise the impact further restrictions will have on farmers and I am keen to work with them to explore alternative approaches both now and as we design a new agricultural policy outside the European Union.

Since December 2013, the EU has banned the use of three neonicotinoids – Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam – on a number of crops attractive to bees, such as oilseed rape.

The European Commission has proposed restricting the same three neonicotinoids to only allow their use on plants in glasshouses. Currently, their use is banned for oilseed rape, spring cereals and sprays for winter cereals, but they can be used to treat sugar beet and as seed treatments for winter cereals. Should this proposal be adopted, the UK would have the right to consider emergency authorisations. We would only do so in exceptional circumstances where there is a real need for the products and the risk to bees and other pollinators is sufficiently low.

Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Ian Boyd said:

The important question is whether neonicotinoid use results in harmful effects on populations of bees and other pollinators as a whole.

Recent field-based experiments have suggested these effects could exist. In combination with the observation of widespread and increasing use of these chemicals, the available evidence justifies taking further steps to restrict the use of neonicotinoids.

Defra has today also given an update on its National Pollinator Strategy, which shows encouraging progress on its aims to make farms, towns, cities and the countryside better places for our bees and pollinators. The strategy was launched in 2014, following independent research which showed an overall decline in the UK’s wild bee diversity over the last 50 years. It sets out a collaborative plan to improve the state of bees and other pollinators, and recognises pesticides as one of the key threats to their populations. The government will continue to work with partners such as Friends of the Earth, British Beekeepers’ Association and Kew to deliver the ambitious strategy.

Published 9 November 2017