Category Archives: Soil health

Pesticides damage survival of bee colonies, landmark study shows

The world’s largest ever field trial demonstrates widely used insecticides harm both honeybees and wild bees, increasing calls for a ban

Honey bee pollinating on rapeseed
Bees that foraged a lot on oil seed rape were found to be particularly at risk from disease. Photograph: kojihirano/Getty Images
 Widely used insecticides damage the survival of honeybee colonies, the world’s largest ever field trial has shown for the first time, as well as harming wild bees.

The farm-based research, along with a second new study, also suggests widespread contamination of entire landscapes and a toxic “cocktail effect” from multiple pesticides.

The landmark work provides the most important evidence yet for regulators around the world considering action against neonicotinoids, including in the EU where a total ban is poised to be implemented this autumn. The insecticides are currently banned on flowering crops in the EU.

The negative impacts found varied across different countries, leading the pesticide manufacturers to question whether the results of the research, which they funded, were real. The new research is published in the prestigious peer-review journal Science.

Neonicotinoids represent a quarter of the multi-billion dollar pesticide market but have been repeatedly linked to serious harm in bees in lab-based studies. Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline, in part due to loss of habitats and disease. But there had been few realistic field studies to date to address the role of the insecticides and only occasional evidence for colony-level harm in wild bees.

The new research took place at 33 large farmland sites spread across the UK, Germany and Hungary. Honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees living by insecticide-treated fields of oil seed rape were compared with those in fields where insecticides were not used in the year of the study.

The survival of honeybee colonies was reduced by exposure to the insecticides in the UK and Hungary, but not in Germany, where the bees foraged far less on oil seed rape and had lower levels of disease. The reproductive success of the wild bees was cut as the insecticide exposure increased in all three countries.

“We showed significant negative effects at critical life cycle stages,” said Prof Richard Pywell, from the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and part of the research team. “If the bees are foraging a lot on oil seed rape, they are clearly at risk. This is a large and important piece of evidence, but it is not the only evidence regulators will look at.”

Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline
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Bees and other pollinators are vital to food production but are in decline. Photograph: Jeremy T Kerr/Science

Scientists not involved in the research backed the conclusions. “Together, the two studies make strong contributions to the growing scientific consensus about the harms of neonicotinoid pesticides to bees,” said Prof James Nieh, at the University of California San Diego. Addressing the differences between countries, Prof Jeremy Kerr, at the University of Ottawa in Canada, said: “Neonicotinoid applications are a kind of reproductive roulette for bees. Depending on local environmental characteristics, they can materially reduce survival prospects.”

The $3m cost of the research was met by Syngenta and Bayer, the companies that sell the two neonicotinoids tested, as part of a voluntary commitment to increase the available field data. But the companies were not involved in the designing, conducting or reporting of the study.

It found that the bees in Germany got just 15% of their food from the oil seed rape fields, compared to 40-50% in the UK and Hungary. “Clearly the bees in Germany are feeding on other flower resources in the landscape and are less exposed to neonics,” said Pywell.

The scientists also discovered that the wild bees were exposed to a neonicotinoid that was not even used in the trial and concluded the harm caused may result from “persistent residues in arable systems due to their widespread and often very frequent use”.

However, both Bayer and Syngenta expressed doubt about the “simplistic” interpretation of complex and “inconsistent” results. “We do not share CEH’s interpretation and remain confident that neonicotinoids are safe when used responsibly” said Richard Schmuck, director of environmental safety at Bayer CropScience.

Peter Campbell, from Syngenta, said: “The negative and positive results reported by CEH could easily be random, ie not real.” He said even taking the results at face value “demonstrates that neonics can be used safely or even with benefit to bees under certain circumstances, such as reported in Germany.”

But CEH’s Pywell said: “We stand by our peer-reviewed paper. We undertook the statistical analysis and reported the findings as we saw them and those are underpinned by the data. We are absolutely independent.”

A honeybee worker has a radio-frequency identification tag attached to its back
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A honeybee worker has a radio-frequency identification tag attached to its back that allows researchers to monitor when it leaves and returns to the colony, as well as when it is no longer active and presumed dead. Photograph: Amro Zayed/York University/Science

The second new study published in Science, carried out on corn farms in Canada, also found crops were not the main source of neonicotinoids to which bees were exposed. Instead, the contaminated pollen came from wildflowers, as has been shown recently in the UK.

“This indicates that neonicotinoids, which are water soluble, spill over from fields into the surrounding environment, where they are taken up by other plants that are very attractive to bees,” said Nadia Tsvetkov, at York University in Canada and who led the research.

“The detection of the potential long-term persistence of neonicotinoids in the soil by both studies raises the spectre of a reprise of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring,” said Prof Robert Paxton at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany.

The Canadian research also found that the presence of realistic levels of a fungicide made the neonicotinoids twice as toxic to bees. “The effect of neonicotinoids on honey bees quickly turns from bad to worse when you add the fungicide boscalid to the mix,” said Prof Valérie Fournier, at Laval University in Canada and also part of the team. Pesticides are not tested in combination by regulators and Kerr said: “This study shows that mixtures matter.”

 

New publication from Garden Organic – The Principles of Organic Gardening

What are the fundamental principles behind organic gardening? We know about not using toxic chemicals, but in truth there is more, much more, to creating a resilient and healthy natural growing space.

Garden Organic is pleased to announce the publication of a new booklet which neatly summarises the five organic gardening principles. Feed the soil, encourage wildlife, use resources responsibly, avoid harmful chemicals and keep your growing area healthy. Based on over 60 years of research, the easy to read Principles explains the thinking behind each of the above.

The booklet aims to help you your own growing methods, so that you can progress along the journey towards becoming truly organic. Based on the original Organic Gardening Guidelines, it has helpful Do’s and Don’ts, plus new sections and beautiful illustrations. “This should be a best-seller,” writes one member. “It is packed with important information.”

The Principles of Organic Gardening can be downloaded free of charge from gardenorganic.org.uk/principles. Alternatively, we can send you a copy by post, all we ask is a suggested donation of £2.50 to cover postage and package. You can do this here, selecting ‘Donation for Principles of Organic Gardening’ from the drop down options.

Posted: 
Monday, 5 June 2017

Is organic food better for you?

A question which has intrigued those on both sides of the organic fence. Instinctively, organic growers feel that their produce – grown without chemicals and using natural fertilisers – must be safer and more nutritious. We look at research which has been published in the past year, which reveals the difference between organic and conventional produce.

Biodynamics, Revitalizing our Earth, one Garden at a time Conference 2016 at Garden Organic!

Gardeners  are the natural stewards and protectors of our Earth, and how we garden has never been so important.
Biodynamic gardening methods provides a much needed catalyst for regeneration, which revitalizes soils, nurtures bees, provide safe havens for wildlife,  and keep our precious bio-diversity alive.

The aim of biodynamics is to maximize the inherent vitality of our soils and gardens through its use of herbal compost and spray preparations, by harnessing the subtle cosmic forces of nature, building natural resilience with open pollinated seed, and by creating a garden full of harmonious life, which becomes self-sustaining .

Want to discover more?
Packed with hands on practical advice,  workshops and captivating lectures, our conference  devotes itself to biodynamic approach to gardening, and how to take your organic gardening to a new level of holistic health.

Book your ticket here.
Look forward to seeing you in Sept!  – Warm wishes – Jessica Standing (BDA Office UK)

 

Release of damning report on UK Soil Health

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has just released a damning report on UK Soil Health.

“…. some of the most productive agricultural land in the country is at risk of becoming unprofitable within a generation due to soil erosion” cites the report. “(Although) the Government says it will ensure that all soils are managed sustainably by 2030… our inquiry suggests that the Government’s actions do not match its ambition, and casts doubt on whether we are on track to achieve the 2030 goal.”

The report points out that “Soil, water and air are all essential to human life and society—but of these three, soil is often the forgotten component. Yet soil is crucial to agricultural production, climate change mitigation and adaptation, urban development, and flood risk management. Neglecting the health of our soil could lead to reduced food security, increased greenhouse gas emissions, greater flood risk, and damage to public health.”

Concerns over soil health include

  • Around 300,000 hectares of soil are thought to be affected by legacy contamination from the UK’s industrial past. However, local authority duties to clean up contaminated land are compromised by Defra withdrawing capital funding. This presents the real danger that contaminated sites are being left unidentified, with consequential public health impacts.
  • Soil is a massive carbon sink, storing three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Soil carbon is particularly concentrated in peatlands. The UK’s arable soils have seen a worrying decline in carbon levels since 1978, with widespread and ongoing decline in peat soil carbon. At COP21 the Government signed up to a scheme to increase soil carbon levels by 0.4% per year. However, methods to increase soil carbon are not implemented to their full potential. The Government needs to set out specific, measureable and time-limited plans to meet the goal to increase soil carbon, as well as taking take tougher action to tackle land use practices which degrade peat, such as burning of blanket bogs.
  • The Government relies on ‘cross-compliance’ rules associated with farm payments to regulate agricultural soil health. However, the rules and their implementation are not sufficient to support the Government’s 2030 ambition to manage soil sustainably. Crucial elements of soil health, such as structure and biology, are not assessed at all. The rules are accompanied by a minimalistic inspection regime which Defra aims to reduce further. Moreover, the rules focus primarily on preventing further damage to soil, when an effective system would also focus on restoration and improvement of soil health.
  • The UK lacks an ongoing national-scale monitoring scheme for soil health. Many indicators of soil health change slowly, so it is appropriate to measure only every few years—but successive Governments have neglected to establish a rolling scheme to monitor soil health.

The Government has an ambitious goal to ensure that all soils are managed sustainably by 2030. The report claims that current policy does not put us on a trajectory to meet this goal. Further action is required to back up the Government’s laudable words on soil health. The Government should use its upcoming 25-year environment plan to propose policies to strengthen soil protection, so that policies are not focused merely on damage limitation but encourage restoration and improvement of soil quality & organic matter.

Posted on Garden Organic site:
Tuesday, 21 June 2016