Bees and other wild pollinators are not being protected from decline by the EU, with loopholes even allowing for the use of banned pesticides known to be major killers of key species.
A report from the European court of auditors has found that Brussels’ efforts to prevent the decline of bees, wasps, hoverflies, butterflies, moths, and beetles have been largely ineffective.
Just one full-time official within the European commission has been tasked with working on an EU “pollinators initiative” launched with great fanfare two years ago.
The number of hours of work dedicated to combating the impact of pesticides equated to a second full-time equivalent, the watchdog has reported.
The auditors’ special report further highlights that member states have been permitted to continue their use of pesticides thought to be responsible for massive honeybee losses.
Between 2013 and 2019, 206 emergency authorisations were granted for the use of three neonicotinoids – imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin. They have been strictly banned for outdoor use since 2018.
Samo Jereb, the member of the European court of auditors responsible for the report, said: “Pollinators play an essential role in plant reproduction and ecosystem functions, and their decline should be seen as a major threat to our environment, agriculture and quality food supply. The EU initiatives taken so far to protect wild pollinators have unfortunately been too weak to bear fruit.”
The main reason given for the exceptional use of neonicotinoids was a lack of alternatives to deal with disease pressures in their country, the auditors have said.
The German pesticide manufacturer Bayer and the National Farmers Union in the UK are involved in a legal battle at the European court of justice over the 2018 neonicotinoids ban, raising concerns among activists that it could be overturned.
Doug Parr, the chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said: “These ’emergency authorisations’ are supposed to be granted only under exceptional circumstances, but at the rate in which they’re being dished out, it would seem that for some countries exception has become the rule.
“On average, since they’ve been banned, permission has been granted for the use of these deadly pesticides somewhere across Europe every other week.”
Nearly four-fifths of temperate wildflowers and crops depend to various extents on insect pollination.
An EU financed project estimated the yearly contribution of insect pollinators to European agriculture at about EUR15bn.
A 2019 worldwide assessment report confirmed a negative trend in the number of insects in general, with more than 40% of insect species threatened with extinction. The most affected insect species are butterflies, moths, bees and beetles.
A loss of habitat from conversion to intensive agriculture, and the use of pesticides and fertilisers are among the main causes of decline.
Monitoring data available for butterflies has been used to provide a reference point on the status of many other insects in the EU. It shows that since 1990 the population of monitored butterflies has declined by 39%.