Bird decline

The widespread use of a type of insecticide that has been blamed for honeybee deaths is linked to a marked decline in bird numbers in Europe, a report says.

(Edited version of article by Matt McGrath, Environment Correspondent, BBC News 9-07-2014)

Imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid chemical, is widely used in agriculture to exterminate pests.

Dutch scientists say their data shows that the chemical is associated with a collapse in common bird species.

But manufacturers argue the evidence of these effects is not substantiated.

Imidacloprid is one of a number of neonicotinoid insecticides introduced in the 1990s as a more environmentally friendly way of dealing with crop pests.

What exactly are Neonicotinoids?

  • Neonicotinoid pesticides are new nicotine-like chemicals and act on the nervous systems of insects, with a lower threat to mammals and the environment than many older treatments
  • Pesticides made in this way are water-soluble, which means they can be applied to the soil and taken up by the whole plant. They are called "systemic", meaning they turn the plant itself into a poison factory, with toxins coming from roots, leaves, stems and pollen
  • Neonicotinoids are often applied as seed treatments, which means coating the seeds before planting

Neonicotinoids have been hugely successful, and now account for about 40% of the global pesticide market.

However, there have been growing concerns about their environmental impacts. A number of studies have linked them to the decline in honeybee

recent, wide-ranging review of the scientific literature concluded that the chemicals were causing significant damage to a number of beneficial species.

Now, Dutch scientists have, for the first time, shown an association between the use of imidacloprid and a decline in common birds.

The scientists were then able to compare this dataset to surface water quality measurements. They found that higher concentrations of imidacloprid in the water was "consistently associated" with declines in many of the monitored birds.

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