One of my plant specialists, The Quiet Corner, sent me a disturbing article about the use of Neonics in the horticultural industry. I have never heard of the word. I imagine many of you haven’t either but I personally find it worrying that these pesticides are used on our plants on a daily basis.
This article appeared in the The Organic Way in the Spring/Summer issue 2017 and was written by Judith Conroy.
I quote from this article:
“I am often asked, “what plants can I grow that are good for bees?” There usually follows a lovely conversation about the fascinating relationships between different insects and their favourite blooms. My questioner will often end with “great, I’ll go and find some of those down at the garden centre.” My heart sinks, as having enthused them, I have to explain why this might not be a good idea ….
The fact is that many of the plants for sale in garden centres, supermarkets, farm shops and plant nurseries are treated with a whole range of different chemicals to kill insects, molluscs, fungi and weeds (basically termed pesticides) – but there is no requirement to let the unsuspecting customer know this.
For those of us buying plants with bees and other pollinating insects in mind, NEONICOTINOID insecticides (commonly known as Neonics) give particular cause for concern; though their use in agriculture receives prominent media coverage, their continued use in horticulture is seldom discussed.
Neonics are used as a drench, meaning that the chemical is taken up by the plant and so is present in all its tissues, including, crucially, the pollen and nectar.
Neonics act as neurotoxins, killing insect pests, such as vine weevils and aphids when they eat the plant, but are also proven to be highly toxic to non-target species such as bees who visit them for nectar and pollen.
Neonics have a half-life of up to 300 days in soil, so a potted plant treated four weeks prior to sale could still contain concentrations.
So far studies have concentrated on honeybees rather than native pollinators. There has been some research into the effects on bumblebees which seem to be more adversely affected than the honeybees, but virtually no work to assess the impact of neonics on solitary bees.
Other problems arise with neonics leaching into water courses, impacting upon aquatic life and they are also thought to be harmful to birds that feed on contaminated insects.
As public awareness of our declining insect population grows, flowering plants are increasingly promoted for sale with “bee friendly” logos. These labels tell us whether pollinating insects are known to forage on a plant but offer NO guarantees as to how it has been raised. There is no law against putting a logo on a plant that has been treated with neonics and a bee or hoverfly cannot tell whether a flower is laced with insecticide.
Buy organic or grow your own. Ask the plant nurseries who are selling the plants how they treat their plants. There is a growing number of plant nurseries which, despite not having organic certification, are choosing to work to more sustainable principles, encouraging natural pest controllers such as birds, frogs and parasitoid wasps whose populations build when pesticides are not in use.
Ask, ask, ask! One of the most powerful things we can do is to ask. Whether you’re in a large garden centre or a small greengrocer’s and even if you don’t get the answer you want, you will help to raise awareness of the demand for environmentally sustainable plants.
Find out more: gardenorganic.org.uk/growing-advice
The Organic Gardening Catalogue: organiccatalogue.com
The Independent Plant Nurseries Guide: independentplantnurseriesguide.uk