Pesticide limits needed to protect UK bees and butterflies

Ambitious targets to reduce pesticides need to be set to reverse declines in bees, butterflies and other insects, wildlife experts have urged.

A red tailed bee. Ambitious targets to reduce pesticides need to be set to reverse declines in bees, butterflies and other insects, wildlife experts have urged. Picture: Jon Hawkins /PA Wire
A red tailed bee. Ambitious targets to reduce pesticides need to be set to reverse declines in bees, butterflies and other insects, wildlife experts have urged. Picture: Jon Hawkins /PA Wire

The call from the Wildlife Trusts comes as it publishes a report highlighting efforts to help insects across the country, with projects managing farmland, road verges, chalk streams, city parks and churchyards.

Growing evidence shows many insects are in rapid decline, such as UK butterfly populations which are down more than 50 per cent since 1976, the report said.

The decline has impacts for farming, which relies on beneficial insects for pollination, keeping down pests and soil health, and for a host of plants and animals from birds to bats and hedgehogs.

Insects have been hit by a loss of habitat, with 97 per cent of the UK’s wildflower rich meadows vanishing since the 1930s, ploughed up for crops or converted to less natural pasture, while 87 per cent of wetlands have gone.

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The report also said 16,900 tonnes of pesticides were applied to the countryside every year, while there was also spraying in towns, cities and gardens and chemicals poured down the drain.

But it highlights action that is being taken to protect some of the UK’s 27,000 species of insects, from bees and grasshoppers to beetles, dragonflies, moths and butterflies.

To help insects, the Wildlife Trusts are calling for an ambitious pesticide reduction target that is as good as, if not better than, the EU’s proposal to halve the overall use of pesticides by 2030.

The conservation groups warn there should be no weakening of existing UK pesticide standards in future trade deals, and there must be support for farmers to adopt insect-friendly farming practices. It will be possible to reverse insect declines if a network of nature-rich areas are created. It is also calling for local councils to create more nature-rich places for insects, and make their areas pesticide-free.

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Edinburgh Council recently agreed to stop using a controversial weedkiller, glyphosate, in the Balerno area over concerns from local residents.

Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “In my lifetime 41 per cent of wildlife species in UK have suffered strong or moderate decreases in their numbers and insects have suffered most. This has had a huge effect on the rest of the natural world. The vital role that insects perform is undermined and everything that depends on them suffers.”

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