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Just watched an interesting debate on YouTube between a farmer who feels he has to use neonicotinoids and opponents of the decision.

It was chaired by the Wild Life Trusts. It is a long video, some 100 minutes, so for those who do not have the time to watch it I thought I would summarise the key points I got from it:

  • The sugar beet industry is worth some £208 million per year to Britain
  • Sugar beet plays an important role in the 1 in 4 or 1 in 6 crop rotation.
  • This crop rotation is not allowed under this derogation.
  • It is planted in the spring.
  • It is harvested between October and February.
  • It is harvested before it flowers so is not a source of food for bees.
  • The Beet Yellows Virus is carried by aphids.
  • The Beet Yellows Virus can reduce crop yields by up to 80%
  • The neonicotinoid is applied as a pelleted seed.
  • Protection lasts 10 to 14 weeks whilst the seedling is tender.
  • The neonicotinoid lasts a lot longer in the soil.
  • Warmer winters are resulting in more aphids hence more virus.
  • The UK has tighter restrictions than the EU on the use of Neonicotinoids.
  • We would import sugar beet from Brazil or Australia.
  • Imports may contain pesticides our farmers may not use.
  • Work to produce Beet Yellows Virus resistant strains is ongoing.
  • Use of lace wings to eat the aphids is also being investigated.
  • It is anticipated the aphid load will result in Neonicotinoids being used next year as well.
  • Neonicotinoids were introduced to the UK in 1994 as a seed dressing.
  • LD50 is Lethal dose 50% and is the amount of a pesticide required to kill 50% of the population.
  • This is calculated in laboratory tests
  • The LD50 value for thiamethoxam is 4 billionths of a gram per honey bee.
  • That is one teaspoon (5 grams) will kill 1.25 billion bees
  • That is 125 tons of dead bees or 4 large lorry loads - and all from a teaspoon of pesticide.
  • In the last year before the ban the UK spread 110 tonnes of Neonicotinoids on the land.
  • There is a lot of evidence that sublethal dose of Neonicotinoids severely affects insects.
    • A sublethal dose can affect their navigation system
    • A sublethal dose can damage their immune system.
  • It is a systemic insecticide so it is taken up by the whole plant- leaves, flowers, pollen, nectar, fruit.
  • If spread on pelleted seeds only 5% is taken up by that plant.
  • 95% remains in the soil or washed into streams and aquifers.
  • It is not just bees that are affected - all insects are affected.
  • It is an insecticide - it is designed to kill insects.
  • Bees can be seen as the equivalent of the canary in the coal mine.
  • This derogation may mean there is less incentive to find alternatives.
  • So far we have selectively bred Sugar Beet strains for yield not resistance.
  • This is a prophylactic use of insecticide - apply it in case we get get a problem.
  • Why not grow less sugar and replace it with fruit and veg?
  • Obesity is costing this country £27 billion per year.
  • Carbon footprint of sugar beet less than that of sugar cane.
  • Farmers are advised by agronomists on crop treatments.
  • Between 50% and 80% are tied to chemical companies.
  • Alternatives include:
    • Accept a lower yield
    • Grow something else instead
    • Breed different varieties of sugar beet
    • Use natural aphid predators.
    • Use less sugar - and that is down to all of us.
  • DEFRA have advised the removal of flowering plants from treated field margins.
    • This is to prevent insects being poisoned
    • Instead of them being poisoned they can be starved!
    • A scorched earth policy!

There may be alternatives to neonicotinoids but there are no alternatives to bees.

Sorry to keep on about this but it is important. I wrote about the issue in my previous post on Green Brexit. There is also another post on the Dorchester and Weymouth Bee Keepers site.

But reading is not enough. We have to make certain that any decisions the government make are well informed. It is for this reason I am drawing your attention to the draft National Action Plan on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. There are download links on the page and it is asking for our response - and our deadline for response is February 26th.

The document raises several questions for us to think about including, on page 21, asking us how DEFRA could increase transparency to explain the decisions they have come to. This is an important issue as can be seen by the lack of information available regarding the evidence for the recent Sugar Beet/Neonicotinoid derogation.

I ask you all to download and read the document and pass back your comments by February 26th

Bee working hard.
Photo by Neil Harvey on Unsplash

On a lighter note - the other night we watched "Mr Holmes" on the BBCiPlayer. It is partly about Sherlock Holmes - which is why we chose to watch it - but bees and bee keeping play a very important element in the story. It stars Ian McKellen and is an interesting plot beautifully acted. It is on iPlayer  until the end of the month or you can rent it from Amazon.


It is early days but we were promised a "Green Brexit" by Michael Gove Indeed Michael Gove has promised us that "the right decisions, can enhance our natural environment."

Well one of the first environmental changes made by this government since full Brexit has ben the  issue of an emergency authorisation for the use of neonicotinoids on sugar beet seeds - just 8 days into the New Year.

    There are conditions attached to this emergency authorisation:
  • Seeds treated with the neonicotinoids can only be on the market for 120 days.
  • Seeds can only be used when there is a risk of serious drop in yield due to beet yellow virus.;
  • The emergency authorisation will be reviewed after three years
    There are proposals attached to this emergency authorisation:
  • The applicant has proposed a reduced level of application to the seeds
  • The applicant has proposed the use of a virus-incidence forecasting programme so that the dressing is only used when "economic impacts would be incurred".
  • The applicant has proposed a "stewardship scheme" to address risks to pollinating insects.
    In a section about bees attention is drawn to the following points:
  • Sugar beet is a non-flowering crop and therefore of less interest to bees
  • There is a risk that bees will visit flowering weeds between the beet plants. This will be prevented by the use of herbicides.
  • Neonicotinoids are persistent in the environment so it is proposed that no flowering crops be grown on the plots for 22 months and
  • No oil-seed rape to be planted on the same plot for 32 months.

The paper describes the risk to mammals and birds from eating the seedlings is "acceptable" and the chance of birds eating the pelleted seed was minimal.

This does seem to be a restricted use of neonicotinoids but is it the thin end of the wedge?

Why is it being allowed at all on a crop which produces a product the government are doing their best to discourage us from consuming.

Neonicotinoids are known to harm bees and their use is something we should be aware of.

These are early days for this "Green Brexit" but it is something all of us concerned with the natural environment should be watching very closely.

If you are looking for something more uplifting may I suggest you look at the lectures advertised on the Diary Dates page.