Our recent publication, 50 for the Future, lists 50 things that we believe should happen in Scotland over the next 50 years to benefit both people and wildlife. In this week's 50 for the Future article, Dr Maggie Keegan, the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Head of Policy and Planning, explains why reducing our use of pesticides will benefit biodiversity, improve ecosystem health and create more attractive rural areas.
Number 18: Reduce pesticide use by at least 80% by promoting natural pest and disease control, for example by attracting pest-eating insects
Scottish agriculture applies a lot of pesticides to support crop and soft fruit production – about 1,700 tonnes each year. Should this be a cause for concern? The Scottish Wildlife Trust believes it is. Research shows that pesticides that are approved for use are harmful to wildlife and ecosystems. They have negative impacts on soil, freshwater biodiversity, amphibians, bees, farmland birds, butterflies and beetles.
Reducing biodiversity also directly impacts on ecosystem health. Recent research shows that some ecosystems in the UK are becoming less resilient and losing function because of declining biodiversity, meaning that the services they provide are becoming compromised. This is particularly relevant to farming as the research highlights the substantial decline in the resilience of ecosystems associated with pollination and pest control.
The EU has tried to address the environmental problems caused by pesticide use through a Directive (Sustainable Use of Pesticides), which member states were required to implement in 2014. Directive 2009/128/EC sets out rules for the sustainable use of pesticides to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticides on the environment. Actions to be taken by member states include producing national action plans on cutting pesticide use, fostering the use of alternative ecological approaches or techniques and promoting low pesticide-input management (integrated pest management – IPM) including non-chemical methods.
Applying IPM requires an understanding of agricultural ecosystems. IPM uses a suite of tools to achieve low pesticide-input systems to grow healthy crops. This ‘agro-ecosystem approach’ involves knowledge of soil organisms, crop and non-crop plants, agricultural food webs, and natural pest enemies (e.g. predators and parasitoids). This information is used in combination with available control methods to manage pests and diseases economically and sustainably with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
The combined measures to protect crops may include: creating the right field conditions for biological control, biomimicry, crop rotation, and using pesticides only when necessary (i.e. more as a last resort rather than as an insurance policy). Applying IPM reduces the chance of pests becoming resistant, and if practiced at the catchment scale, can benefit aquatic ecosystems, farmland biodiversity and agricultural ecosystems.
Using bio-control and mimicry to cut down pesticide use has been trialled in the UK, two examples are: using parasitoid wasps to control cabbage whitefly in brassica production (England); using parasitoids to control pests such as aphids, raspberry beetle and raspberry cane midge in combination with natural pest attractants and repellents for commercial raspberry growing (Scotland).
To convince Scotland’s farmers to apply routinely IPM to cut their pesticide use, more research is needed to demonstrate that: the low-pesticide input approach works for all types of Scottish farming systems and is economically viable.
Applying IPM would mean that Scotland’s farmed land would have to change to become more wildlife friendly in order to encourage natural predators and parasites of crop pests back into the agricultural landscape. This would mean planting more buffer strips with native grasses and wildflowers, increasing crop rotations, and planting more native hedgerows and trees. To be effective, IPM would have to be coordinated at the catchment scale to increase the biodiversity value and health of the whole agricultural ecosystem.
People living in, or visiting rural areas would also benefit because such habitat changes would create more attractive places to be and allow for more frequent encounters with nature – which is known to have a positive effect on health and wellbeing.
To realise the Trust’s ambition in 50 for the Future of reducing pesticide use by at least 80% the Trust would like to see:
Support from the Scottish Government for more research into integrated pest management solutions that work for Scottish agricultural systems
Integrated pest management applied at the catchment scale
Cross-compliance in farm payment subsidies being aligned to the EU’s
Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive
The Scottish Government permanently ban the use of neonicotinoids that are known to be particularly harmful to pollinators and other wildlife on outdoor crops in Scotland.
If you would like to join the Trust’s current campaign calling for three neonicotinoids to be banned in Scotland and support for more research into integrated pest management then please click below:
Let us know your thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet @ScotWildlife using #50fortheFuture.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust Head of Policy and Planning, Dr Maggie Keegan