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A major 18-year study has found evidence linking controversial "neonicotinoid" pesticides with “large-scale population extinctions” of wild bees for the first time.
The insecticides have been shown to have “sub-lethal” effects on bees, which are vital pollinators for many crops, in laboratory-style conditions and small-scale studies.
But their actual effect in the real world was not well understood – until now.The use of neonicotinoids has been restricted by the European Union and banned in some places, such as the US state of Maryland, because of growing concern about their effects on bees.
Last month the UK Government refused an application to use the pesticide – by the National Farmers Union – for the second time this year, although it has previously approved its use. However campaigners fear the restrictions will be lifted after the UK leaves the EU.
The study looked at nearly 32,000 surveys of 62 wild bee species that were carried out across much of England between 1994 and 2011 inclusive.
The researchers examined the effect of the first widespread use of neonicotinoids as a treatment on oilseed rape seeds in 2002. This was mainly designed to protect the crop from another insect, the cabbage stem flea beetle.
But, writing in the journal Nature, the researchers concluded: “Our results provide the first evidence that sub-lethal impacts of neonicotinoid exposure can be linked to large-scale population extinctions of wild bee species, with these effects being strongest for species that are known to forage on oilseed rape crops.”