Angling Trust calls for neonicotinoid ban

The Angling Trust and Fish Legal have called on the Government to ban the use of neonicotinoids after analysis of new data showed that British freshwaters are heavily contaminated with the chemicals. Half of the sites monitored in England were found to be exceeding chronic pollution limits whilst two rivers are said to be acutely polluted.

According to the Angling Trust, aquatic insects are just as vulnerable to neonicotinoid insecticides as bees and flying insects, but have not received the same attention because the UK Government has not responded to calls to introduce systematic monitoring.

Under the European Union Water Framework Directive 'Watch List' initiative, the UK was required to introduce a pilot monitoring scheme for all five commonly used neonicotinoids – Imidacloprid, Clothianidin, Thiamethoxam, Acetamiprid and Thiacloprid. Twenty-six sites were sampled in 2016 - 16 in England, four in Scotland, three in Wales and three in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland data has yet to be released to the public.

Eighty eight per cent of the sites in Britain were contaminated with neonicotinoids with eight rivers in England found to have exceeded recommended chronic pollution limits whilst two were acutely polluted. Populations of mayflies and other insects in these rivers are likely to be heavily impacted with implications for fish and bird populations.

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said: "Three years ago the Angling Trust pressed the Environment Agency to sample neonicotinoids in rivers after academic papers showed that they can have a significant impact on insects, the main food for most fish. These results are highly alarming in the context of widespread declines in aquatic insect life and fish populations. We urge the Government to act urgently to ban continued use of these chemicals to protect wildlife, fisheries and drinking water supply."

The River Waveney on the Norfolk/Suffolk Border was the worst polluted river with the acute harm level exceeded for a whole month and the River Wensum in Norfolk, a Special Area of Conservation for its river life, was also chronically polluted. These rivers supply the Norfolk Broads, an internationally important wetland site and home to many endangered aquatic animals. Sugar beet fields are the most likely source of pollution in these rivers.

The River Tame, an almost entirely urban river in the West Midlands was only monitored twice, and the second reading was very high, indicating a probable industrial or disposal pollution event. Initial enquiries with the Environment Agency suggest that there has, as yet, been no regulatory or policy response to the high levels of pollution detected, nor to the apparent pollution incident.

Concerns are raised about the levels of imidacloprid recorded in rivers, including urban rivers and a remote Scottish stream in the Cairngorms. Imidacloprid is now a rare arable insecticide, but its high persistence in soil means that it will continue polluting water in arable areas for years to come. However, it is still used in greenhouses, which are known to be a particular pollution risk to water bodies, and is used as a flea treatment on pets. The most likely source of pollution in the Cairngorms is a treated dog entering the stream.

Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife, said: "We are devastated to discover that many British rivers have been heavily damaged by neonicotinoid insecticides. It is vital that action is taken to completely ban these three toxins, including in greenhouses and on pets, before another year of disgraceful pollution occurs."

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