Despite having been proven to be massively harmful to wildlife, Defra has capitulated to an NFU request to use neonicotinoid insecticides on Sugar beet seeds in 2021. Neonicotinoids are known to wash off seeds and are taken up by wildflowers where they poison bees and other pollinators, as well as travelling through the soil and polluting rivers and harming mayflies and other aquatic invertebrates – they are banned in the EU. Defra has agreed that farmers can use neonicotinoid seeds in 2021, but must try to prevent harm to bees and other pollinators by destroying flowers ‘in and around sugar beet crops’. It is not clear how the proposal will prevent neonicotinoids getting into rivers, as recently as 2016 the River Waveney was acutely and chronically polluted with neonicotinoid insecticides that had washed off Sugar beet seeds.
Neither the NFU 2020 application nor any detailed ECP advice are in the public domain so the public statement from Defra provides the only indications as to what is being planned for the environment.
A similar application in 2018 was refused after the Expert Committee on Pesticides advised that the proposal would “cause unacceptable effects to bees in following crops and flowering plants in field margins”, would harm “Birds and mammals eating seedlings from treated seed and birds consuming pelleted seed” and risked “adversely impacting populations of aquatic insects”.