Campaigners lose bid to challenge ‘bee-harming’ pesticides decision

Campaigners have lost their bid to challenge the lifting of a ban on the use of bee-harming pestic

Campaigners have lost their bid to challenge the lifting of a ban on the use of bee-harming pesticides in four English counties, including Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. - Credit:

Campaigners have lost their bid to challenge the lifting of a ban on the use of “bee-harming” pesticides in four English counties.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) were refused permission to apply for judicial review of a decision in July allowing farmers to drill oilseed rape seeds coated with two neonicotinoid pesticides this autumn.

A judge ruled their case “unarguable on all grounds”.

An EU-wide two-year ban was put in place after some studies showed the pesticides caused significant harm to bees, but Environment Secretary Liz Truss used emergency powers to partially lift it.

FoE said more than half a million people have signed petitions against the move.

The Government authorised a 120-day easing of the ban in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire after the National Farmers Union (NFU) said cabbage fly stem beetle attacks were likely to threaten crops.

FoE accused the Environment Secretary of taking an unlawful approach to the emergency authorisations.

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Gerry Facenna, appearing for FoE, said at a recent hearing that the application for judicial review would be an important test case concerning the protection of bees and other pollinating insects.

Although it was too late to stop the pesticides Modesto and Cruiser OSR being used this autumn, it was clear further applications would be made to use neonicotinoid products next year, he said.

Mr Facenna argued that, under EU regulations, emergency authorisations could only be granted in “special circumstances” where a danger to crops “cannot be controlled by another reasonable means”.

The ruling comes as thousands of people are signing up to schemes aimed at creating new habitats for bees and pollinators.

A range of initiatives have been launched by environmental groups, retailers and schools in the year since the Government launched its National Pollinator Strategy.

Schemes include conservation charity Buglife setting up 800 “Urban Buzz” hotspots.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has provided £20,000 in grants to five Local Nature Partnership projects in Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, the North East and Surrey.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) vice president Guy Smith said he was “extremely pleased” at the decision.

“The NFU has played an active role in this case, and we have been working hard to ensure that our members’ interests have been represented to the court,” he said.

“The emergency authorisation mechanism is crucial for Member States to have. The NFU has been urging governments at an EU and domestic level to look to sound science as a basis for restrictions on plant protection products as part of the Healthy Harvest campaign.

“Throughout the application process and in our representations in this case the NFU has sought to approach what can be a highly charged issue in a sober, balanced manner that looks after the interests of growers while respecting the needs of the wildlife that uses farm crops as habitat.”

NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said: “The NFU has fought for many months for its members who are struggling to establish oilseed rape crops in areas of high cabbage stem flea beetle pressure. Since restrictions on neonicotinoid use were put in place in December 2013, the damage caused by this pest has been a widespread problem. The seed treatment provides an efficient and targeted solution.”