RSPB resigns from government’s pesticides forum after chemical use soars

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The RSPB and dozens of environmental groups have resigned from the government's pesticides forum after two decades claiming the use of dangerous chemicals is now far worse than when they joined.

Pesticides are believed to be behind colony collapse in bees

The charity alongside Wildlife and Countryside Link which represents bodies like The Wildlife Trusts and Butterfly Conservation have written to Michael Gove, the environment secretary, warning they can 'no longer stand by' while the situation deteriorates.

Two groups, the Pesticides Forum and Voluntary Initiative, were set up by the government in the 1990s to reduce environmental damage from pesticides.

However figures show that since their founding the area of British land treated by pesticides has risen from 45 million hectares to more than 70 million hectares today.

In a letter to Mr Gove, the charities said: "Our organisations have long participated in these voluntary groups in the hope that they would lead to better protection for the environment.

"However, in that time they have failed to take meaningful or significant action to reduce pesticide-related harms.

"Meanwhile the area of UK land being treated with pesticides has risen by more than half, and many of our crops are being treated more times with a wider variety of chemicals.

"In light of recent evidence as to the dramatic impacts of pesticides on the natural environment and wildlife, we can no longer stand by while these initiatives bolster the positions of vested interests, in our names."

The number of hectares where pesticides are used has soared since 1990

Numerous studies in recent years have shown that pesticides are causing long-term decline in insects and birds, and are probably behind 'colony collapse disorder' in bees which has seen populations plummet by up to 90 per cent.

Toxic neonicotinoid varieties have now been banned but even replacements, such as sulfoxaflor, have been found to reduce bee colonies by half.

As well as killing the creatures outright, the chemicals can have other damaging effects such as reducing fertility over the long term.

In spite of the ban, neonicotinoids, which work by disrupting the central nervous systems of pests, are probably still causing long-term effects because of contamination of soils, freshwater, wetlands and coastal areas.

And by killing insects, the pesticides are also having an impact on species higher up the food chain such as birds, as well as on pollination, pest and weed control and food production for humans.

In March the EU banned Britain's most common pesticide, chlorothalonil, which prevents mildew and mould on crops like barley, wheat, potatoes, peas and beans.

But is not known if Britain will be bound by that decision after Brexit with farmers campaigning to be allowed to still use the chemical.

Josie Cohen, Head of Policy & Campaigns at The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK, which has also signed the letter said: "We cannot remain members of bodies that continue to push the 'business as usual' approach as pesticides drive massive declines in wildlife such as bees, birds and butterflies.

"The UK government urgently needs to put in place the measures required to support UK farmers to reduce their dependence on pesticides and transition to non-chemical alternatives."

The charities are calling for the forum and voluntary initiative to be replaced by compulsory measures to reduce pesticide use and support farmers in adopting non-chemical alternatives.

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