Protect Britain’s bees: ban pesticides on wheat, calls environmental group

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Pesticides used on wheat still put Britain's bees at risk, claim Friends of the Earth. Pic: ©iStock/ian35mm
Pesticides used on wheat still put Britain's bees at risk, claim Friends of the Earth. Pic: ©iStock/ian35mm

Related tags Pesticide

Friends of the Earth is appealing to DEFRA to cut pesticide use on wheat as part of its post-Brexit farming policy.

A new report from Friends of the Earth (FOE) has called for restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) to be extended to wheat.

In 2013, three neonics were placed under a two-year ban by the EU after scientists found they posed a “high acute risk” to honey bees​ (1) when used on flowering crops, including maize, sunflower and rapeseed.

Although this injunction remains in place, these chemicals are still being used on other crops.

report released by EUFSA​ (European Food Safety Authority) in October last year noted concerns over the safety of bees with the use of clothianidin on several other crops, such as potatoes, maize and beets.

Separating the wheat from the chaff

Now, the conservation group claims that bees are still being severely affected by one of the restricted neonics – clothianidin – which is widely used on wheat.

It quotes Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) data showing that, in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available), clothianidin seed treatments were used on over 700,000 hectares of wheat in the UK, accounting to about 38% of the country’s wheat production.

Although wheat isn’t bee pollinated, the insects are still being exposed to the neonics used on the seeds.

FOE’s report claims that around 90% of the pesticide isn’t absorbed by the plant, but ends up in the soil and water. This is then absorbed by other plants, including the wildflowers found next to wheat crops.

Bees are also exposed to the dust drifting away from the crops when treated seeds are sown.

The report also states that numerous studies have also shown these chemicals are harming the insects that farmers rely on, like earthworms.

Bee safe

FOE, along with other environment and conversation groups, is appealing to DEFRA Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, to back the continuation of the current restrictions on neonics,​ (2) as well as support the extension of the ban to cover wheat and all other crops.

According to FOE campaigner Sandra Bell, the British government needs to issue a complete ban on neonicotinoid pesticides as a central part of its post-Brexit farming policy.

“We can’t afford to gamble with nature in this way if we are to carry on producing British food and safeguarding the health of our countryside,”​ she said.

FOE’s report recommends other non-chemical ways to control wheat pests, combined with an Integrated Pest Management approach.


  1. “Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment for bees for the active substance clothianidin.” EFSA Journal 2013. Doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2013.3066.
  2. “Conclusion on the peer review of the pesticide risk assessment for the active substance clothianidin in light of confirmatory data submitted.” EFSA Journal 2016. Doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2016.4606

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