UK farmers have been given the green light to use a bee-killing pesticide banned by the EU due to the biodiversity crisis facing the planet.
Environment secretary George Eustice has agreed to let a product containing the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam to treat sugar beet seed this year in an effort to protect the crop from a virus.
Setting out conditions for the “limited and controlled” use of the pesticide, officials said the minister had agreed an emergency authorisation of it for up to 120 days after British Sugar and the National Farmers Union had lobbied the government.
But the Wildlife Trusts said neonicotinoids pose a significant environmental risk, particularly to bees and other pollinators.
Taking to Twitter, they said: “Bad news for bees: The Government has bowed to pressure from the National Farmers Union to agree the use of a highly damaging pesticide.
“The government know the clear harm that neonicotinoid pesticides cause to bees and other pollinators and just three years ago supported restrictions on them across the European Union.
“Insects perform vital roles such as pollination of crops and wildflowers, and nutrient recycling, but so many have suffered drastic declines.”
Studies have shown that a third of the UK bee population is thought to have vanished in a decade, yet up to three-quarters of crop species are pollinated by bees.
2017 research of 33 oilseed rape sites in the UK, Germany and Hungary found a link between higher levels of neonicotinoid residues and lower bee reproduction, with fewer queens in bumblebee hives and fewer egg cells in solitary bee nests.
The following year, the EU agreed a ban on all outdoor uses of three neonicotinoid insecticides to protect bees.