This article was originally published on the Farmers Weekly, it can be accessed here.
The RSPB and a number of other environmental groups have resigned from the government’s pesticides forum, claiming voluntary efforts to reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture are failing to deliver.
The charity, along with the Wildlife and Countryside Link and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK, have written to Defra to announce their formal resignation from the Pesticides Forum and the Voluntary Initiative (VI).
The two groups were established by the government in the 1990s in a bid to reduce the environmental damage caused by pesticides.
But the RSPB says the use of pesticides has risen from 45 million ha back then to 70 million ha today.
In a letter sent to Defra secretary Michael Gove, they state: “We have participated in these industry and government led groups for two decades to encourage them to take meaningful action to reduce the impacts of pesticides.
“However, they have consistently demonstrated a lack of balance and, importantly, have failed to support those farmers who are leading the way by reducing their reliance on pesticides.
“Meanwhile, the area of UK land being treated with pesticides has risen by more than half since 1990, the average number of times key crops are treated has increased, as has the toxicity of the chemicals being used.”
Vital pesticides banned
The groups say that in light of recent evidence about the impacts of pesticides on the natural environment, they can “no longer stand by”, claiming the two government initiatives “bolster the positions of vested interests”.
In a recent survey, 78% of people said they wanted the government to provide more support to farmers who are working hard to reduce their pesticide use.
In the letter, the groups praise the government for supporting EU restrictions on the use of neoncotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to a decline in bee colonies and banning metaldehyde slug pellets.
In contrast, both decisions have deeply disappointed farming organisations, including the NFU, and farmers, who are very concerned that they are losing vital crop protection products.
The RSPB and green groups have called for the voluntary pesticides bodies to be replaced with mandatory measures which would actively discourage pesticide use and support farmers who adopt non-chemical alternatives.
They say other steps should include:
- Increased support for research into Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and better support for farmers to adopt IPM and organic techniques, for example through the Environmental Land Management scheme.
- A pesticide-use reduction target alongside an improved monitoring system which measures the impact of pesticide use on human health, the environment and wildlife.
- A consultation on the introduction of a pesticide tax to drive more sustainable use of pesticides and reinvest revenue in sustainable agriculture.
The Wildlife and Countryside Link is the largest environment and wildlife coalition, reprenting bodies including the Wildlife Trusts, Rewilding Britain, Friends of the Earth and the National Trust.