The UK is calling for tougher restrictions on nerve-agent pesticides – a reversal of its traditional stance that has been welcomed by scientists and campaigners.
The pesticides, known as neonicotinoids, have been linked to widespread declines in bee populations and are partially banned across the EU.
The UK government has previously opposed the ban, claiming that there was insufficient evidence that they posed a risk to bees and other pollinators – although British farmers observed the prohibition.
But Environment Secretary Michael Gove said today there was a growing body of scientific evidence to justify the ban and backed an EU move to extend the existing it to include more crops.
“The weight of evidence now shows the risks neonicotinoids pose to our environment is greater than previously understood, ” Mr Gove said.
“I believe this justifies further restrictions on their use. We cannot afford to put our populations at risk,” he said.
Experts praised Mr Gove for listening to the scientific evidence – but cautioned that he needed to keep an eye on what farmers replaced them with.
“If the neonicotinoid industry simply replace them with some new generation of pesticides we will not have made progress, but will simply be repeating mistakes we have made over and over again for 70 years,” said Professor Dave Goulson, of University of Sussex.
“If the neonicotinoid industry simply replace them with some new generation of pesticides we will not have made progress,”
“We need to encourage farmers to move away from reliance on pesticides as the solution,” he added.
Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said: “Michael Gove is to be congratulated for listening to the experts. But lessons also need to be learned – we now need to move away from chemical intensive farming and instead boost support for less damaging ways of tackling persistent weeds and pests.”