Neonicotinoid implicated in Honeybee mass poisoning incidents

An investigation by Buglife – the Invertebrate Conservation Trust has revealed that contrary to statements made by Government scientists from the National Bee Unit on yesterday’s Channel 4 News item - -, there is evidence of an increasing link between Neonicotinoid pesticides and bee deaths in Britain.

On the news item Dr Helen Thompson, from Fera, the Government’s agricultural research organisation, stated that "there is no strong evidence that they [Neonicotinoids] are actually linked to bee losses - at all".

However, Buglife reviewed Fera’s data and found that there have been several cases in the last two years when the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme has implicated Neonicotinoid pesticides in mass bee deaths. Not only that, but the number of reported incidents have been rising in recent years and, importantly, an increasing proportion of the incidents are associated with Neonicotinoid pesticides.

Year No. incidents of poisoned bees % associated with Neonicotinoids
2008 5 0
2009 10 10%
2010 15 27%

The Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme relies on people notifying the Government of an incident and sending in bees for analysis by Fera. As such it is anecdotal and no doubt just the tip of the iceberg; for instance laboratory studies have shown significant impacts on bee health at levels of pesticide poisoning that are too low for instruments to detect. However, the claim that there have been no major changes to the health of British honeybees is not supported by Fera’s own evidence.

"Buglife has been very concerned about mounting scientific evidence that chronic exposure from Neonicotinoid pesticides is damaging bee and wild pollinator health: this new evidence that there are also increasing numbers of mass fatalities of bees linked to Neonicotinoid pesticides is truly shocking." Said Matt Shardlow, Buglife Chief Executive.

Another Fera report published in 2008 explains why Buglife is concerned that the Government has not made sure that these chemicals are safe to use. The report "Are pesticide risk assessments for honeybees protective of other pollinators" states that:-

"There are many cases where species are several orders of magnitude more sensitive on a per individual or weight basis than honeybees, e.g. Lepidopteran larvae. Therefore more detailed information on the toxicity of pesticides to a range of species and life stages is required to assess the sensitivity of wild pollinators relative to honeybees."

"Given the wide range of plants species dependent on non-Apis [Honeybee] pollinators a reduction in wild pollinators is likely to have knock on effects on the plant species pollinated by them, resulting in less forage."


"More detailed toxicity and exposure information for a range of species is required for a robust assessment of the risk posed."

Buglife is calling for a suspension in the use of all Neonicotinoid pesticides until they can be shown to be environmentally safe.