Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Lethal pesticides still killing bees despite EU ban

Lethal pesticides still killing bees despite EU ban
29 Jan
2020
 New evidence reveals just how persistent some neonicotinoids are in the environment, raising questions for the countries that still allow their use

Neonicotinoids – the group of pesticides now well-known for the risk they pose to bees – didn’t always have an image problem. First introduced in the 1990s, they were considered an environmentally friendly option due to the way they specifically target insects, making them safer for vertebrates, including humans. Unfortunately, this effectiveness makes them lethal, not just to the pests they are intended to tackle, but also to pollinating bees. As a result, in 2013, the European Union introduced a moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoids in bee-attractive crops. This was later followed by a total ban of the same three on all outdoor crops in 2018.

Get Geographical delivered to your door!
signup buttonAs we brace ourselves on our personal islands, it can be hard to picture the processes of the planet continuing to whir. Marooned in our homes, it’s vital that we stay positive, motivated and informed. Geographical is committed to helping you explore the world from the comfort of your sofa. Get the world delivered to your door, with Geographical.

Subscribe today to Geographical’s monthly print and digital magazine and save 30% off the cover price! 

The problem is, these lethal pesticides haven’t gone away. The same properties that make them effective also ensure they are highly persistent. Not least, the fact that they are water-soluble (allowing them to move throughout the entirety of a plant) means they travel easily through the surrounding environment. Recent research on 291 oil seed rape fields in the west of France has revealed that between 2014 and 2018, the three neonicotinoids in question were all present in samples. One of the three, Imidacloprid, was detected each year in 43 per cent of the analysed samples (corresponding to 48 per cent of the fields), with no downward trend over the years.

As oil seed rape is a bee-attractive crop, these pesticides would not have been applied directly since 2013. The researchers therefore believe the neonicotinoids must have spread to the rape fields from other crops where their use was still allowed. ‘I believe that part of it stems from cereals planted a year before, or a couple of years before, sowed on a nearby field,’ says Dimitry Wintermantel, a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research. ‘At the moment of sowing, the neonicotinoids can be blown away like dust clouds of a very high concentration. And then later they can transport through water.’

Having analysed the quantities of the pesticides, the researchers carried out an assessment of the resulting risk to bees, which revealed that for two out of five years, at least 12 per cent of the fields were sufficiently contaminated to kill 50 per cent of the bees and bumblebees foraging on them.

The ban imposed in 2018 should now prevent further contamination, but getting rid of the chemicals already present is more difficult. The researchers hope this will provide food for thought for any country considering reintroducing the pesticides and for the many countries outside the EU that still allow their use.

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Climate

Covid-19 has forced us to reduce destructive atmospheric behaviours and…

Wildlife

Recruiting armies of albatrosses could enable the detection of illegal…

Nature

What better time to get reading? We’ve collected some of…

Nature

We may be stuck inside, but there’s no need to…

Climate

It is supposed to ease the transfer of workers in…

Wildlife

New discoveries about the way grizzly bears retain muscle strength…

Climate

Capturing carbon from power stations and other high-carbon processes is…

Polar

 Dubbed the riskiest glacier on Earth, an ongoing project to…

Climate

Most people think they are more environmentally friendly than others.…

Climate

The discovery of a new form of the aurora borealis…

Wildlife

The release of pharmaceuticals into rivers and lakes is having…

Geophoto

Whatever your subject, looking through a macro lens provides an…

Geophoto

German physicist, biologist and photographer, Andreas Kay was based in…

Geophoto

Prestigious photography competition returns for a third year

Wildlife

 New evidence reveals just how persistent some neonicotinoids are in…

Oceans

Scientists are using underwater loudspeakers to attract fish species back…

Climate

For years, China was the go-to destination for exporting the…

Geophoto

Capturing the perfect shot sometimes means not having the camera…

Energy

New research reveals that the UK needs to act fast…

Wildlife

As Arctic ice diminishes, new pathways are opening up, with…