Fifth of British birds vanish in just 50 years

Some 44 million breeding birds have been lost from Britain since 1966, and many species are facing a bleak future. While two turtle doves may represent a true love’s gift in the 12 Days of Christmas carol, birdwatchers could soon struggle to see even one on our shores as the population has plunged by more than 90 per cent. The house sparrow has also seen a significant decline, down by two-thirds in less than 50 years to leave an estimated population of ten million. And its smaller cousin, the tree sparrow, has been even more seriously affected, with a staggering 91 per cent drop in its numbers to leave just 60,000 in the UK. Similar falls have hit the willow tit and the grey partridge. The annual State of the UK’s Birds report estimates there are 166 million nesting birds in Britain, down from 210 million in 1966.

Environmental Audit Committee: Insects and Insecticides

The Environmental Audit Committee held its first and second public evidence hearings of its inquiry, Insects and Insecticides. In the morning evidence session, the Committee identified the key issues in relation to insects and insecticides with campaigners and farmers’ representatives. Topics for discussion included the current regulatory regime for pesticides, the decline of insect pollinators in the UK, organic alternatives to pesticides and the practical consequences of a hypothetical ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides. In the afternoon session, the Committee explored the latest scientific research on insects and insecticides with a panel of scientists who are currently active in the field. This session focused on the latest research on the effect of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees.
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Safe until proven toxic?

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the book responsible for the onset of the environmental movement, which led to the banning of the pesticide DDT a decade later. What many people don't realise is that in 2012 we are exposed to more toxic chemicals than ever before, in spite of legislation enacted to control it. In the US, chemicals like PCBs, solvents and adhesives are regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. But rather than "control" which chemicals are released into the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat, TSCA really just follows them after the fact. When TSCA was enacted, more than 60,000 untested chemicals were present in our environment, and an estimated 8,000-12,000 chemicals continue to be introduced annually, with no requirement that human toxicity or exposure data be provided before the chemical is used. Essentially, we the consumers and citizens are the experimental animals on which these chemicals are tested.

Advocacy group files FOIAs seeking EPA reports on bee kills

The Center for Food Safety last week asked EPA in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to release all agency memos, emails, incident reports and other documentation on bee kills and other incidents allegedly linked to exposure to the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid. The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, in a FOIA request dated Nov. 1, asks for internal EPA correspondence and documentation regarding "bee mortality, beneficial insect mortality, threatened or endangered species mortality, hive loss, excess disease or other incidents" that are related to chronic or acute exposure to imidacloprid, which is primarily manufactured by Bayer CropScience.

Brave New World—Systemic Pesticides and Genetically Engineered Crops

GE food should have been regulated in the same way as drugs. As it is, GE crop consumption is a vast, uncontrolled experiment, with no oversight, no monitoring for adverse reactions, and no real way to assess liability. Gene flow and genetic pollution can be tracked only after it occurs. If we remember the problems with Starlink corn, the whole industry is one catastrophe away from total meltdown. If we overlook safety and environmental issues, GE crops have not been used wisely. Monolithic plantings of one cultivar increase the potential for total crop failure. Relying almost entirely on glyphosate and BT for pest management has increased pest resistance, and current GE crops may become ineffective. Seed monopolies are also causing farmers to lose their independence. We should learn from the pesticide treadmills of the past. GE crops that tolerate several herbicides are not the answer to resistant weeds. The result will be massive applications of herbicides that are more toxic than glyphosate. Weeds will become resistant to multiple herbicides. The answer is a return to IPM principles that allow both sustainable crop production and environmental protection. For now, the only sure way to avoid eating GE food is to buy organic products. Maybe if more people vote in the marketplace, producers will make some changes.

Special Issue on the Toxicology of Pesticides in the Journal of Environmental and Analytical Toxicology

Since the mid-1960s, environmental toxicology focussed on the effects of bioaccumulation of organochlorine insecticides in organisms, and their consequences for populations of species in the wild. Prompted by the release of Silent Spring, scientists sifted focus to the ecological effects of pesticides, thus expanding the narrow field of pesticide toxicology that had been restricted to its effects on pests, weeds and pathogenic fungi since its beginnings. The ensuing decades will witness a tremendous gathering of data related to the toxic impacts that insecticides, herbicides and fungicides have on organisms and ecosystems. Despite these efforts, our understanding of the mechanisms of toxicity at different levels of biological organisation has not kept abreast with the overwhelming progress experienced in the development of new pesticides. While chemical companies introduced new plant protection products in the market at a staggering pace, environmental toxicology has trailed behind.

Historical insect collections reveal several bee species in decline

Researchers with the Canadian Pollination Initiative (NSERC-CANPOLIN) mined numerous insect collections in Canada and the United States looking for information on the distribution and abundance of 21 eastern species of bumble bees. "It is really difficult to know if a species is in trouble unless you have good historical data for comparison. This is the first time data gathered from historical collections has been used to assess the current status of Nearctic bees across their entire native range," says Sheila Colla, a recent PhD graduate from York University who led the study. The study was based on 44,797 bee specimens collected between 1864 and 2009. Researchers used both taxonomic and geographic data found in collection records to measure the persistence and relative abundance of each species across the full range of their distribution. Of the 11 species found to be in decline, four are deemed "vulnerable", six are considered "endangered" and one is "critically endangered".

Large carabid beetle declines in a United Kingdom monitoring network increases evidence for a widespread loss in insect biodiversity

Carabid beetles are important functional components of many terrestrial ecosystems. Here, we describe the first long-term, wide-scale and quantitative assessment of temporal changes in UK carabid communities, to inform nationwide management aimed at their conservation. Multivariate and mixed models were used to assess temporal trends over a 15-year period, across eleven sites in the UK Environmental Change Network. Sites covered pasture, field margins, chalk downland, woodland and hedgerows in the lowlands, moorland and pasture in the uplands, and grassland, heaths and bogs in montane locations. We found substantial overall declines in carabid biodiversity. Three-quarters of the species studied declined, half of which were estimated to be undergoing population reductions of > 30%, when averaged over 10-year periods. Declines of this magnitude are recognized to be of conservation concern. They are comparable to those reported for butterflies and moths and increase the evidence base showing that insects are undergoing serious and widespread biodiversity losses.

Retailers clarify policies on bee-affecting pesticide use

Retailers have clarified their stance on pesticide use after new research revealed a combination of two commonly used products harmed bumblebee populations. The Co-operative Group said imidacloprid was a neonicotinoid that was on its “prohibited list”, which applied to fresh and frozen produce sold in store and grown on its farms. Morrisons said it understood the importance of encouraging healthy bee populations in the UK and screened all pesticides used by its suppliers to ensure they did not have an adverse effect on bees. Tesco, meanwhile, said it did not use the two pesticides in combination on any “flowering crops” such as apples or pears in the UK. Sainsbury’s did not respond to specific questions over whether its suppliers were permitted to use the two pesticides mentioned in the study. A spokeswoman, however, said: “Our pesticide policy requires our suppliers to minimise their use of pesticides and employ Integrated Crop Management techniques.”

Imidacloprid targets the humoral immune responses in chickens

The purpose of the current study was to investigate the immunological impacts of chronic imidacloprid insecticide toxicity in broiler chickens and the protective effects of vitamin E and selenium. Broiler chicks (n=90) aged day old were randomly segregated into three groups of 30 chicks each and were kept in separate pens. Newcastle disease (ND) vaccine was given on day 7 and 28 of age. On day 8, chicks in group I were administered 5 mg/kg bw (1/20 LD50) imidacloprid orally. Chicks in group II were given imidacloprid 5 mg/kg bw orally plus a mixture of vitamin E and selenium ≅ 200 mg/kg diet, while group III was given distilled water (DW) orally and served as a control. The treatments were given daily based on weekly body weight till day 45. Antibody titration, serum total immunoglobulins, circulating immune complexes, cell-mediated immunity and histopathology of bursa of Fabricius and spleen were examined. Imidacloprid produced significant decline in the titer of antibodies against ND vaccine, total immunoglobulins and circulating immune complexes in imidacloprid treated group on day 45 as compared to control group. There were no significant changes in the skin thickness between treated chickens and chickens of control group. Histopathology of the bursa of Fabricius revealed edema, lymphocytic depletion in the medulla and cortex and mild interfollicular fibrosis in imidacloprid treated group. The spleen showed mild haemorrhages and lymphocytic depletion.