Neonicotinoid. It’s a dirty word in the world of environmentalism. Earlier this year the government flew in the face of the advice being offered and lifted a ban on them which sparked outrage amongst pretty much everyone, except for farmers whose crop yields it was aiming to raise.
You might be wondering at this point why people were angered so much; we all have to eat so surely anything to increase the amount of food we produce is a good thing? Neonicotinoids are a systemic pesticide, which means the chemicals used in them are absorbed into the plant and found in all the plants tissues, including its pollen. As such they have been widely linked to struggling populations of bees in recent years and now new research shows butterflies may also be at risk from these chemicals.
The research undertaken by the University of Stirling, Biological Records Centre, Butterfly Conservation and the University of Sussex revealed a strong relationship between the decline of common British butterflies and the increasing use of neonicotinoids on our arable crops.
By examining 17 species of butterflies over the last 30 years, the decline in 15 species could be correlated to an area of the UK subjected to neonicotinoid pesticide treatment. Researchers were able to conclude that neonicotinoids “may explain the concurrent rapid decline in butterfly populations” as the relationships with neonicotinoids were stronger than with time alone. Although summer temperature and the number of butterflies from the previous year were positively related to population levels, they were not related to levels of neonicotinoid usage.
It is believed that butterflies are heavily impacted by the planting dust which is emitted when treated seeds are sown. An earlier study has shown that the dust found on plants close to treated arable fields could be considered sub-lethal to caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly. Another study has found that there mobile dust with a high concentration of neonicotinoids lying on the surface of fields which had not been treated recently. This suggests that the chemicals are able to spread prevalently throughout the environment and may be why neonicotinoids are affecting national populations of butterflies despite many populations not existing directly next to arable fields.
This new research is just another compelling piece of evidence as to why the use of neonicotinoids must be banned. One in three mouthfuls of food depends on insect pollination therefore there is little point in using something to increase crop yield which is harming our pollinators so why does the government continue to support their use?
Featured Image by Pete Eeles
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