By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
While eating my breakfast this morning, I watched bees buzz around my back garden. They’re particularly fond of a large unkempt rose of Sharon, which overhangs our outdoor dining table. The shrub is desperately in need of a good pruning, but I can’t bear to get out my loppers while it’s throwing up gorgeous pink blooms.
I don’t use any pesticides in my garden. I’ve avoided them ever since Mr. Vicario, my science teacher, put me up to reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring sometime in the early 1970s. Originally published in 1962, the book launched the modern environmental movement in the U.S. Despite some early successes – banning DDT in 1972 comes to mind – the widespread use of pesticides has triggered a drastic drop in insect and bee populations, not only in the U.S. but worldwide.
The Guardian reported Thursday on a petition to ban pesticides in private gardens and urban areas in order to stem this decline and to protect wildlife and human health, Ban all pesticides in UK gardens to save bees and insects, says expert:
Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex, said outlawing chemical spraying in the country’s 22m private gardens, along with road verges, parks and other green spaces, could slow insect decline by creating a network of nature-friendly habitats where insects can recover.
In a petition launched on Thursday, Goulson urged the government to follow the example of France, which banned all use of synthetic pesticides in public spaces in 2017, and banned garden use from 2019. The campaign has been backed by the RSPB, Parkinson’s UK, the Soil Association and other environmental groups.
The launch of the petition coincided with UK publication of Goulson’s new book, Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse. I’ll snag a copy once it’s published in the U.S. at the end of next month and add it to my to-read pile.
Now, I understand that home gardens and public spaces probably don’t account for much of the total consumption of pesticides in the UK: they’re a mere drop in the bucket compared to agricultural uses. Goulson has addressed that point:
“The use of pesticides in farming is the subject of big debate. You can make a pretty strong argument that we probably do need pesticides if we’re going to feed everybody. But we don’t need them in our gardens. There’s no economic case for that at all,” Goulson said. “If we link up private gardens with flower-filled road verges and roundabouts, city parks, cemeteries and so on, that’s potentially a network of insect-friendly habitats. It would be a huge step in the right direction.”
The heavy use of pesticides has been highlighted as a factor in the catastrophic decline of the world’s insects. In the UK, butterflies, moths and pollinating insects have suffered sharp drops in abundance.
The campaign launches as a study in the journal Nature suggests the impact of agrochemicals on bee declines may have been underestimated. A meta analysis of threats to bees found that if the issue is not addressed, further declines in populations were expected, with knock-on effects on global food production.
I recently linked to a Wall Street Journal article that touted pollination robots as a replacement for declining bee populations, BUZZ OFF, BEES. POLLINATION ROBOTS ARE HERE.:
Farmers have long relied on insects, wind and even human workers to help pollinate their crops. Now, advances in artificial intelligence are helping some startups develop another way to pollinate plants: robots.
Across the globe, startups are testing robots to pollinate everything from blueberries to almonds. And in Australia, one company is so confident in robots’ abilities that it will soon deploy a fleet of them to pollinate tomatoes in its greenhouses.
Pollination robots could give future farmers a significant advantage, increasing yield compared with using insects, such as bees, and the human workers who are sometimes needed to help with certain crops. Scientists are also concerned that insect populations are declining because of habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change and other factors, which would make pollination robots even more important.
Hmm.Rather than relying on yet another untested technofix to replace the bees we’ve killed, Goulson’s petition instead recommends the urban and garden pesticide ban as one means to stem that decline. From the petition:
Wild bees & other wildlife are in decline, a potential catastrophe for us all. Pesticides also threaten human health, many of them being carcinogens &/or neurotoxins. As outlined in “Silent Earth” (2021), one way to help combat bee decline is to encourage them in urban areas. Our 22 million gardens, plus parks, road verges & other green spaces could form a network of wildlife friendly habitats. This will only work if, like France, we stop spraying pesticides in gardens and public urban spaces.
Over to the Guardian again:
Greenpeace, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Parkinson’s UK are among the other groups to back the campaign, also raising concerns about links between pesticides and human health. Goulson created the petition as part of the launch of his new book, Silent Earth, which documents the decline of wild insect species.
Gareth Morgan, the Soil Association’s head of farming and land use, said: “Most people are fed up with seeing councils spraying our streets and parks with chemicals exposing their workers, the public and wildlife to what are really poisons. We should look to manage our open spaces and gardens without resort to using pesticides.
“Just as farmers have had to respond to the ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids then similar phase-outs for pesticides should be introduced so the public and local authorities can start to adopt sustainable and safe alternatives in our towns and cities.”
As mentioned above, France has already phased out the use of synthetic pesticides in public spaces and home gardens and the Guardian article discussed other initiatives undertaken by Canadian towns and cities and the German state of Bavaria. These places have shown what can be done. To date, nearly 23,000 people had signed Goulson’s petition.