Buglife, the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates, has strongly welcomed the momentous step by the EU to effectively ban the import into the EU of crops grown with two widely used neonicotinoid insecticides.

What might appear to be an innocuous adjustment the EU has set the Minimum Residue Levels of Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam for imported food to zero.

However, this step is being described as a ‘hand grenade’ and a potential revolution for the impacts of global trade on biodiversity.  By setting the residue levels to zero the EU is effectively banning the use of these two dangerous insecticides by anyone wanting to export crops to the EU.

In a communication to the World Trade Organisation the EU justifies their bold action saying “Given the global nature of pollinator decline, there is a need to ensure that also commodities imported into the European Union do not contain residues resulting from good agricultural practices based on outdoor uses of clothianidin and/or thiamethoxam, in order to avoid the transfer of adverse effects on bees from food production in the European Union to production of food in other parts of the world.”

This is the first time that the global biodiversity crisis has been used to justify general trade restrictions.  If it is allowed to stand it will set a new principle and should open the door for countries to take sweeping actions to ensure that their trade does not result in the exportation of environmental harm to other parts of the planet.

The measure could be further justified as populations of key pollinators, including hoverflies and moths are migratory; covering huge distances and crossing many world borders.  The use of neonicotinoids in North Africa or Ukraine will reduce insect numbers in the EU.

Buglife first raised concerns that neonicotinoid insecticides were likely to be damaging to bumblebees and mayflies in 2009.  The European Commission eventually banned these two insecticides in 2018 after the UK changed position and voted in favour of the ban. However, they are still used in many non-EU countries and the UK is currently using Thiamethoxam on sugar beet.

In January 2020 Buglife, representing 29 European eNGOs, wrote to the Vice President of the EC Frans Timmermans asking for greening of trade to better protect pollinator populations and in a meeting in March 2020 with Timmermans cabinet members Buglife CEO Matt Shardlow asked for a halt to the importation of crops grown with the banned neonics to prevent the EU simply exporting biodiversity damage overseas.

Support for the measure has grown and in recent weeks the European Habitats Forum, whose members include Buglife, WWF, Birdlife, EEB, Butterfly Conservation Europe and Friends of the Earth Europe, wrote to the EC requesting the end of the importation of all crops produced using bee and pollinator harming pesticides.

Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO commented: “This action is a brave and potentially revolutionary step.  Current international trade protocols are inadequate for addressing 21st challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss, but this measure could change the game and put the protection of global biodiversity on every trade negotiation agenda.”

Buglife is hopeful that the current action being proposed by the EC could have far reaching consequences, around the globe, with better outcomes for bees, other pollinating insects and biodiversity generally, helping to secure human survival.

Scientists design contraceptives

to limit Grey Squirrels

A plan to use oral contraceptives to control Grey Squirrel populations in the UK is making good progress and could soon be put to the test in field trials, say government scientists. The mass birth control plan involves luring grey squirrels into feeding boxes only they can access, using pots containing hazelnut spread. These will be spiked with contraceptives.

The project could help eradicate the Grey Squirrel in the UK without killing them, says environment minister Lord Benyon. “It should reduce the “untold damage” grey squirrels do to woodland ecosystems and native red squirrel populations,” he says.

The government scientists leading the research say the contraceptive, which makes both male and female grey squirrels infertile, should be ready to deploy in the wild within two years. Grey Squirrels, first introduced from North America in the late 19th century, damage UK woodlands by stripping bark from trees to get at the nutritious sap beneath. The species has flourished in the UK. There are now reckoned to be 2.7 million Grey Squirrels here. The animals target young trees, typically 10-50 years old, and favour broadleaf species including Oak, Beech, Sweet Chestnut, and Sycamore. They can kill or maim trees, leaving scarring that allows an entry point for other tree pests and diseases which can stunt their growth. The damage they can do threatens the effectiveness of government efforts to tackle climate change by planting tens of thousands of hectares of new woodlands, environment minister Lord Goldsmith has warned

Grey Squirrels have also driven the UK’s native Red Squirrel to the verge of extinction across much of the country. There are thought to be just 160,000 Red Squirrels left in the UK, with only 15,000 remaining in England. Grey Squirrels are significantly larger and stronger than reds and carry a squirrel pox virus that is deadly to reds but to which they are immune. The traditional way of managing the grey squirrel population is by culling them. But Grey Squirrels breed rapidly and populations can recover quickly. A century of culling programmes has failed to reduce the population.

“Dosing the animals with a contraceptive drug is a more humane alternative and will ultimately be more effective”, says the lead scientist on the project, Dr Giovanna Massei, from the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). She says her team have developed a vaccine that prompts the immune system to restrict the production of sex hormones, which leaves both male and female squirrels infertile. The drug is not permanent, and further tests are being carried out to find a dose that has a long-lasting effect and is safe to use in the wild.

The team have also developed a special feeding hopper with a weighted door designed to keep out species other than squirrels. Trials in Yorkshire and Wales showed 70 per cent of squirrels in each wood visited the bait boxes over a four-day period – the only other animals that got in were two particularly enterprising mice. The plan is to bait the hoppers with pots of a hazelnut paste greys find “irresistible” and which will be laced with the new contraceptive. The scientists are also exploring special feeders to be used in areas where there are both red and grey squirrels. These will be triggered by a plate which weighs the animals and only lets the heavier greys get access to the bait.

Dr Massei says computer modelling shows the contraceptive method The Control could bring grey squirrel populations to the brink of extinction in some places. “It could even eradicate them from some areas, provided you can do a coordinated control over an area, so they don’t start to re-immigrate”, Dr Massei says. If the work with grey squirrels is successful Dr Massei believes similar techniques could be used to help control the population of other invasive mammals including rats, mice, deer, and wild boar. The research is being funded by the UK Squirrel Accord (UKSA), a partnership of forestry and conservation organisations. It has raised just over £1m to cover the research and development of the project. The contraceptive scheme is an important additional non-lethal tool for managing grey squirrels, says Kay Haw, the director of the UKSA. “Red squirrels now only survive in island ecosystems where there aren’t any grey squirrels or where a red squirrel community group are working hard to keep back the grey squirrels”, she says.

The financial cost of the damage grey squirrels do is estimated at £37m a year in England and Wales alone. The cost to the UK’s biodiversity has not been calculated. A mature oak tree can support up to 2,000 other species. The initiative has wide support, including from the Prince of Wales, who was instrumental in the setting up of the UKSA. The animal rights pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says if population control has to be implemented, it backs non-lethal options. But it cautions: “We mustn’t forget that grey squirrels and other species deemed “invasive” are where they are through no fault of their own and entirely due to human carelessness, and they deserve to be left in peace.” The broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham believes a species[1]specific oral contraceptive could be a “dream ticket” if it proves to be economically viable and practical. He describes the project as “non-violent direct action” to control “a widespread and extremely numerous invasive animal” and suggests an effort should also be made to encourage pine martens back into their previous haunts across the country.

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Bold new plans to mobilise communities to save UK nature

The Wildlife Trusts announce new strategy to put nature into recovery by 2030

New plans announced today will mean that people will be able to experience nature in a way that they may never have done before – with large, populated areas butting up against large rewilded landscapes, say The Wildlife Trusts. The charity’s new Strategy 2030, launched today, shows how people will be at the heart of vast nature restoration projects that will do more than just halt the decline of nature – they will reverse it instead.

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and, with 41% of species in decline since the 1970s plus 15% of species at risk of extinction, urgent action is required to stop hedgehogs, water voles, and red squirrels disappearing forever. The Wildlife Trusts plan to empower people to reverse the trend.


two of the animals in decline and at risk of extinction
Photos: Hedgehog V. Mathews, Red Squirrel M. Hamblin

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

 “The situation is dire and nature needs to be put in special measures – we must ramp up action as never before by triggering a decade of nature restoration. Conservation of the wildlife and habitats that remain is no longer enough because what we’ve got left is so fragmented and diminished. In the past we’ve focused on preserving habitats and species – now we need to restore the abundance of nature, and with it, the ecosystem processes that’ll get nature working again.

“Despite the huge loss of wild places and wildlife that depends on them, there is hope. The UK has committed to protecting and managing 30% of land for nature by 2030 and we’re going to be working with all national governments and local authorities to make sure this happens.”

The Wildlife Trusts have three new goals:

  • To put nature in recovery by making more space for it, connecting habitats on a large scale, restoring the abundance of nature and enabling ecosystems to function again
  • To inspire one in four people to take action for nature by working with communities, especially young people, to rewild their neighbourhoods
  • To enable nature to help humanity so that wild places store carbon, prevent flooding, reduce soil erosion, aid pollinators and support people’s wellbeing

The Wildlife Trusts are working in every county of the UK empowering people to drive change. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust provide sone of very many examples of how to increase the land that benefits nature to 30%:

Gloucestershire has just 13% of natural land and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust recognises that working in partnership with the people of the county is crucial to achieving an increase of at least 17%. The Trust plans to achieve this in a variety of ways from creating exciting new wetlands to huge treescapes using the natural catchment of the River Severn as the backbone for recovery. Projects include:

  • Severn Treescapes – a 60 mile, north-south woodland nature recovery corridor across Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire covering 1,728km2.
  • Severn Wild belt – to encourage communities to allow land that is currently of low biodiversity value to be enhanced for nature with a series of connected wetlands on the floodplain to aid flood management, carbon capture and recreational space
  • Putting 69,000 hectares of the county into Nature Recovery Zones around existing good habitat; increasing the size of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s estate by 50%, and creating 5,000 hectares of new habitat by working with farmers and partners
  • Integrating nature into new building developments with beautiful green infrastructure – from parks to sustainable urban drainage systems that collect water
  • Exploring a beaver reintroduction – because bringing back this keystone species is our best ally in the fight against flooding

Beaver Re-introduction in Gloucestershire (Photo D. Parkyn)

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“Nature needs people to act now before it’s too late and we can all be part of the effort to restore our natural world at the scale so desperately needed. We’ve found that people want to get involved, and The Wildlife Trusts – with staff in every part of the UK – are well placed to enable this to happen. It’s up to us all – businesses, landowners, schools, governments, and individuals – to heal our natural world.”

Liz Bonnin, President of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

 “We can succeed at putting nature into recovery if we all work together as one interconnected community. Our precious ecosystems – all interconnected and interdependent themselves – need to be able to do their job in maintaining the health of our planet. The Wildlife Trusts’ Strategy is harnessing the tremendous amount of expertise from all 46 Trusts to restore our wild places, putting people at the heart of it all. It’s time to fall in love with our planet again, and become the responsible custodians it deserves.”