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Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust expert says that the UK government and farming industry must do more to stop use of bee killing neonic pesticides

Despite nearly 15,000 people calling for better support for farmers and wildlife, the UK Government recently approved emergency authorisation for the use of a bee-killing pesticide — known as a neonicotinoid or neonic — on sugar beet crops in England for the fourth year in a row. Writes Erin McDaid of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

This decision, signed off by Farming Minister and MP for Sherwood, Mark Spencer, comes despite the pesticide being banned for use in the UK since 2018 and an industry commitment to end reliance on the banned pesticide in 2023.

While The Wildlife Trust’s campaign against the use of harmful neonicotinoid pesticides is national, the fact that the farming minister is a Nottinghamshire MP and British Sugar has a huge processing plant at Newark, gives the campaign a very local dimension.

Buff-tailed bumblebee. Credit: Vaughan Matthews.
Buff-tailed bumblebee. Credit: Vaughan Matthews.

This banned chemical could now be used on sugar beet crops grown in Nottinghamshire fields this year, despite British Sugar pleading, back in August 2020, for “no more than three years… to give us time to develop alternatives to the seed treatments.”

Thiamethoxam is lethal even a miniscule trace of this toxin can disrupt a bee’s ability to navigate and reproduce, significantly reducing the chance of survival.

With a third of UK food crops pollinated by insects, and their contribution to the UK economy estimated at hundreds of millions of pounds per year, it’s clear that our food system cannot function without bees.

The value and importance of bees and other pollinators is an issue that has really struck a chord with the public, yet the government and industry appear to give little weight to public concerns in their decisions.

The farming minister’s decision is a serious blow for wildlife, the wrong decision and a betrayal of farmers already committed to producing food sustainably.

Honey bees. Credit: Margaret Holland.
Honey bees. Credit: Margaret Holland.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust is hugely disappointed because this decision ignores the third of sugar beet farmers across England who have chosen not to use this chemical in previous years.

They will be disadvantaged again this year. UK farmers understand that the use of this chemical is not a viable long-term solution and the farmers already committed to working without it are demonstrating that it is possible to produce food in a way that helps, rather than harms, nature.

Our frustration isn’t caused by farmers and growers that have no choice but to work within the constraints and challenges of the market in a highly competitive industry.

Farmers don’t want to have to grow crops using banned pesticides and no one wants their birthday cake baked with bee-harming sugar.

Many growers are trying to farm in a way that does not harm nature or rivers — yet there is little if any support for these growers from within the industry or government.

We feel that British Sugar needs to demonstrate its commitment to the long-term sustainability of the farming sector by investing in safe alternative solutions and supporting their growers better.

Sugar beet as animal feed. Credit: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.
Sugar beet as animal feed. Credit: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

This should include providing farmers growing non-neonic treated sugar with clear routes to market and targeted financial support for non-neonic beet growers to cover the additional business risk they currently face.

While the Government continues to authorise a banned chemical just in case its needed, it is unlikely that British Sugar will be motivated to deliver the safe alternatives they promised to invest in.

The food system is obviously not working for farmers, nature, our climate or consumers.

Some farmers are understandably getting angry about this, and the time has now come for a coherent policy that supports a profitable and sustainable nature-friendly farming future.

The public can join The Wildlife Trusts campaign for better support for nature-friendly farming by signing our online petition, at www.wildlifetrusts.org .

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