New report calls for ambitious pesticide reduction target

New report calls for ambitious pesticide reduction target

2-spot ladybird - Amy Lewis

Nation of insect champions needed to reverse insect decline

Today The Wildlife Trusts publish a new report Reversing the Decline of Insects which shows how people, in every part of society, wherever they live, can take action to bring back insects. Everyone, everywhere, is being asked to become an insect champion.

The report cites examples of farmers, communities, councils and charities that are boosting insect populations and proving that it can be done.

The report comes at a critical time for insects. There is ongoing evidence for insect declines and the future of insects – and all life that depends on them – hangs in the balance as trade deals threaten to increase the use of insect-harming pesticides. Furthermore, the Agriculture Bill is progressing through Parliament presenting a unique opportunity to ensure farmers pursue insect-friendly farming methods.

Today’s publication follows the ‘Insect declines and why they matter’ report, launched last year, which examined mounting evidence that insect populations are close to collapse and concluded that “the consequences are clear; if insect declines are not halted, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will collapse, with profound consequences for human wellbeing.”

The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the Government to reverse the decline of insects by:

  • Setting an ambitious pesticide reduction target, as good as, if not better than, the EU’s target to reduce by 50% the overall use of – and risk from – chemical pesticides by 2030
  • No weakening of UK pesticide standards through future trade deals
  • Support for farmers to adopt insect-friendly farming practices

The Wildlife Trusts believe that reversing the decline of insects is possible if:

  • A network of nature-rich areas is created covering at least 30% of the UK, and legally binding targets are set for nature’s recovery which are monitored and enforced
  • Local councils prioritise green recovery and create more nature-rich places where insects can thrive and make cities, towns and parishes pesticide-free
  • Everyone steps up to become an insect champion

Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts says:

“In my lifetime 41% of wildlife species in UK have suffered strong or moderate decreases in their numbers and insects have suffered most. This has had a huge effect on the rest of the natural world. The vital role that insects perform is undermined and everything that depends on them suffers, from hedgehogs to nightingales, wildflowers to wetlands.

“Current trade deals threaten to make a bad situation worse. It’s up to the Government to ensure we maintain our current environmental standards, not let them slip and jeopardise the wildlife we have left. The Agriculture Bill is a golden opportunity to set high standards in law and make sure insect-friendly farming practices are rewarded.

“We want to see an ambitious pesticide reduction target and at least 30% of land being managed for nature so that insects can become abundant once more. We’re calling on everyone to take action for insects and become an insect champion.”

If we get it right for insects we get it right for everything else. Insects are the canaries in the coal mine – their collapse is an alarm bell that we must not ignore. Action is needed from every section of society – we all need to change this together.
Lead author of the report, Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex

‘Reversing the Decline of Insects’ focuses on several examples of what can be done by everyone to halt and reverse this crisis. From the road verges of Stirling and Kent, to farms in Northern Ireland and Devon, the chalk streams of Wiltshire, and the urban greenspaces of Lambeth and Manchester, it highlights some of the many people and projects that are making a real difference for insects.

A new survey of over a thousand people who have already signed-up to take Action for Insects with The Wildlife Trusts, reveals the most popular actions people have been taking:

  • 84% have left some of their gardens to go wild
  • 83% have planted things that insects like
  • 74% have built homes for insects such as log piles or bug hotel

Download a free guide! Your Community Guide to taking Action for Insects and Your Guide to Taking Action for Insects are available HERE

 You’ll receive information and tips on insect-friendly gardening, going chemical-free and the small actions you can take that will really make a difference for insects.

Read the report

queen white-tailed bumblebee

Queen White-tailed bumblebee - Nick Upton/2020VISION


Contacts: Emma Lusby 07733 362775 or Kirsty Paterson 07825 601 558 

Editors Notes

More information on the key changes that need to be made to reverse insect decline:

  • Setting an ambitious pesticide reduction target as good as, if not better than, the EU’s target to reduce by 50% the overall use of – and risk from – chemical pesticides by 2030, and reduce by 50% the use of more hazardous pesticides by 2030. UK government must set the target in the National Action Plan on the Sustainable use of Pesticides (NAP). The government committed to reviewing the NAP as part of their 25 Year Environment Plan – see p.41 – but is late in living up to this promise made in 2018. A public consultation is overdue. The Pesticide Action Network says “The UK’s previous Plan was woefully weak and therefore failed to drive a significant reduction in pesticide-related harms” – more here.
  •  No weakening of UK pesticide standards through future trade deals, including the UK’s current hazard-based approach to pesticide authorisations. The Government’s Trade Bill needs amending to ensure that the UK’s trade negotiations and agreements are underpinned by high environmental standards, including binding and enforceable non-regression provisions that protect against any weakening of environmental law or governance. See briefing from Greener UK here.
  • Support for farmers to adopt Integrated Pest Management and other agroecological practices. The Agriculture Bill that is currently going through Parliament provides an opportunity to reward farmers for insect-friendly practices. We welcome the focus in the Agriculture Bill on public money for public goods – this should be maintained. Rewarding farmers to provide public goods such as more wildlife, natural flood management and carbon storage will be crucial in our efforts to tackle the climate and environment emergency and provide resilience for the future of farming. Latest Greener UK briefing can be found here.

Reversing the decline of insects report shows how:

Insects need ambitious targets for nature’s recovery, a network for nature’s recovery, and at least 30% of land protected for nature…

We welcome the target setting framework in the Environment Bill (in England), which will set legally binding targets in four areas – biodiversity, air, water, and waste and resources. As well as being legally binding, these targets must be comprehensive, enforceable and ambitious, with the aim to achieve an environment that is recovering, healthy, diverse and resilient for the benefit of people and wildlife. Our latest blog on the Environment Bill can be found here and a summary Greener UK briefing is here.

To properly look after insects and other wildlife there needs to be more places where they can thrive – rich habitats that are free of pesticides and, crucially, linked up so that insect populations are not cut off and can move as the climate changes. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity calls for a commitment to at least 30% of land and seas to be covered by wildlife-rich habitat to tackle the climate and ecological emergency. Conservation organisations cannot buy and manage the necessary tracts of land, so a recovery network for nature that encompasses our gardens, highways, villages, cities and the wider countryside will be a major contribution towards reversing insect declines. Currently about 15% of land in England is protected for nature. [The figures we have come from Prof Sir John Lawton’s Making Space for Nature and from Natural England which state, in, for example, England: 8.4% land is a Site of Special Scientific Interest; 1.4% land is a nature reserve; 5.2% land is a Local Wildlife Site.] The Government have committed to protecting a further 4% in England through their 25 Year Plan but this has not yet been achieved. The Wildlife Trusts want to see the current area for nature doubled through a Nature Recovery Network of new, restored and joined-up areas so that wildlife can expand and move around.

For Insects in our Farmed Landscape…

The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the UK Government to ensure that public funds pay for delivery of public goods by redirecting farm subsidies to support genuinely sustainable farming systems. The UK Government should set targets for major reductions in pesticides and support farmers to work with nature and to transition away from unnecessary pesticide use by adopting Integrated Pest Management and other more sustainable farming methods. Investment in initiatives that can bring farmers, conservationists, businesses, Local Authorities and independent experts together to share resources and learning could help to transform the fortunes of our insects in the wider countryside.

For Insects in our Towns and Cities…

All Local Authorities could make more space for nature in towns and cities, and eliminate the routine and unnecessary use of pesticides. The Wildlife Trusts are involved in creating insect-rich habitats right in the middle of our biggest towns and cities and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN UK) is leading the charge for pesticide-free towns ( UK Government should provide leadership by setting targets to drive action and we can all do our bit to create pesticide-free, insect-friendly spaces on our balconies and allotments and in our gardens and parks.

For Insects in our Rivers and Streams…

It is critical that new legislation builds on and strengthens the current water protections under EU law, and that the future system of farm payments supports practices to reduce pesticides and prevent soil and chemical run-off into rivers and streams. More can be done to ensure that rivers function naturally, and to restore natural processes across whole landscapes. After reducing chemical use and soil erosion at source, we also need to harness the innate ability of wetland habitats to filter the water that runs off the land and to stop our soils from being washed downstream. We need better monitoring of pollution in our water and we need water companies, farmers, Local Authorities, and conservationists to work together to safeguard our rivers. Every one of us has a role to play, through creating more ponds or wet boggy areas where we live and thinking about what we pour down our drains. This will help to reverse the decline of our freshwater insects and protect insects everywhere.

To be Insect Champions…

We should tell policy makers that we want insect declines to stop and hold our elected representatives to account. But we must also accept that our own actions have the power to alter the fortunes of our insects for better or worse. Let’s take action in our daily lives to create insect-rich places and stop the use of pesticides where we live and work! As consumers, we can support those farmers, food producers and businesses who are trying to make a difference, and we need to inspire future generations to care too.

Insect declines and why they matter

This earlier report was published in November 2019 by an alliance of Wildlife Trusts in the south west. It concluded that drastic declines in insect numbers look set to have far-reaching consequences for both wildlife and people. The report was written by invertebrate expert, Dave Goulson, and highlighted the severe effects of the declines on insect-eating birds, bats, and fish, and the cost to society due to lost revenue and broken ecosystems. It brought together evidence showing that we have lost 50% or more of our insects since 1970, while 41% of the Earth’s remaining five million insect species are now ‘threatened with extinction’. To take just two examples in the UK: the geographic ranges of many bumblebee species have more than halved between 1960 and 2012, and numbers of butterflies fell by 46% between 1976 and 2017. It concluded that “the consequences are clear; if insect declines are not halted, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will collapse, with profound consequences for human wellbeing.”

Evidence of ongoing insect decline:

· Arthropod decline in grasslands and forests is associated with landscape-level drivers. Seibold, S., Gosner, M.M., Simons, N.K. Bluthgen, N., Muller, J., Ambarli, D, Ammer, C., Bauhus, J., Fischer, M., Habel, J.C., Linsenmair, K.E., Nauss, T., Penine, C., Prati, D., Schall, P., Schulze, E., Vogt, J., Wollauer, S., & Weisser, W.W. (2019). Nature 574: 671-674.

· More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. Hallmann, C.A. Sorg, M., Jongejans, E., Siepel, H., Hofland, N., Schwan, H., Stenmans, W., Müller, A., Sumser, H., Hörren, T., Goulson, D. & de Kroon, H. (2017). PlosONE 12: e0185809.

· Widespread losses of pollinating insects in Britain. Powney, G.D. et al. (2019). Nature Communications 10: 1018.


Dave Goulson is Professor of Biology at University of Sussex, specializing in bee ecology. He has published more than 300 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects. He is the author of Bumblebees; Their Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation, published in 2010 by Oxford University Press, and of the Sunday Times bestseller A Sting in the Tale, a popular science book about bumble bees, published in 2013 by Jonathan Cape, and now translated into fourteen languages. This was followed by A Buzz in the Meadow in 2014, Bee Quest in 2017, and The Garden Jungle in 2019. Goulson founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006, a charity which has grown to 12,000 members. He was the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Social Innovator of the Year in 2010, was given the Zoological Society of London’s Marsh Award for Conservation Biology in 2013, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2013, and given the British Ecological Society Public Engagement Award in 2014. In 2015 he was named number 8 in BBC Wildlife Magazine’s list of the top 50 most influential people in conservation. In 2018 and 2019 he was named as a “Highly Cited Researcher” by Thompson ISI.

‘Action for Insects’ is a Wildlife Trust led campaign to stop the catastrophic decline of insects. Launched in 2019 with a report authored by Professor Dave Goulson, Insect Declines and Why They Matter, the campaign aims to recover our invertebrate populations by galvanising people at all levels of society to stop killing insects by reducing the use of pesticides where they live, work and farm and to start to create more, better protected and better connected insect-friendly habitats in towns, cities and the countryside. The campaign has been supported to date by partners Pesticide Action Network UK, Buglife, and Garden Organic (formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Association - HDRA).

The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts believe that people need nature and it needs us. We are here to make the world wilder and to make nature part of everyone’s lives. We are a grassroots movement of 46 charities with more than 850,000 members and 38,000 volunteers. No matter where you are in Britain, there is a Wildlife Trust inspiring people and saving, protecting and standing up for the natural world. With the support of our members, we care for and restore special places for nature on land and run marine conservation projects and collect vital data on the state of our seas. Every Wildlife Trust works within its local community to inspire people to create a wilder future – from advising thousands of landowners on how to manage their land to benefit wildlife, to connecting hundreds of thousands of school children with nature every year.