Pesticides in Garden Centre Plants

Posted on: June 14th, 2016 by

Support new research to find out what pesticides are in the plants on sale in garden centres:

As we all know, bees are in trouble. Around the world many types of bee are in decline, and some species have gone extinct. These declines are driven by multiple factors including loss of wildflowers from the countryside, outbreaks of disease, and exposure to the many pesticides used in modern farming. This is particularly worrying, as we need bees; they pollinate our crops and our wildflowers. Without bees we would have no strawberries, tomatoes, chili peppers, blueberries or cucumbers, to name just a few. We need to take action to help them.

One action we can all take is to grow bee-friendly flowers in our gardens, providing bees with much-needed nectar and pollen. If every gardener did this we could turn our suburban areas into giant bee nature reserves. Buying plants for bees has proved to be very popular, and most garden centres help by providing labelling to show which plants are best for bees. The Royal Horticultural Society has a special “Perfect for pollinators” label, with a picture of a bumblebee on it. Most bee-friendly flowers are also very pretty, so planting them has the added bonus of making your garden beautiful.

Sadly, there is a problem, a hidden danger. The pretty flowers on sale in garden centres are usually grown on the continent, many of them in the Netherlands, in intensive production facilities. To keep them looking perfect they are treated with chemicals, including a class of insecticide called neonicotinoids which are very harmful to bees. These chemicals, neonics for short, are neurotoxins that attack the brains of insects and paralyse them, or at lower doses leave them dazed and confused.

Neonics have been banned for use by farmers on flowering crops such as oilseed rape, but their use on garden flowers is much less well controlled. If you ask your local garden centre whether their plants have been treated with neonics, they usually do not know. Greenpeace recently screened some garden flowers on sale in mainland Europe, and found that many contained neonics and other toxic chemicals. It seems almost certain that this is also true in the UK, but no-one knows for sure. The sad truth is that this weekend a kind-hearted wildlife enthusiast might buy a pretty bee-friendly plant such as lavender, labelled with a RHS “Perfect for Pollinators” sticker, not knowing that it is full of potent neurotoxins and that they will be inadvertently poisoning their bees.


Our Solution
We want to raise money so that we can screen a range of bee-friendly plants from UK garden centres and identify which ones are truly safe. These could then be sold as neonic-free. If we find significant concentrations of neonics or other harmful chemicals, we would use this information to highlight the issue, putting pressure on the garden centres to buy in only plants that are genuinely good for bees.

Unfortunately this work is not cheap. It is very time consuming to prepare the samples and the expensive equipment needed to screen for the chemicals costs a lot to maintain. This is where we are seeking your help. For £5,000 we can do an initial screening of a selection of bee-friendly plants from UK garden centres. If we can raise even more then we can screen larger numbers of plants and get a clearer picture as to which ones are safe.

Find out more here:

Dave Goulson
Professor of Bumblebees, University of Sussex

2 Responses to Pesticides in Garden Centre Plants

  1. lucy Joines had this to say about that:

    I am very interested in finding out which garden centres are truly bee friendly and how your money raising is going for the screening of neonics? I tried to follow your link above but it did not work. How can I find out more?
    Many thanks
    Lucy in Mount Hawke

    • Bernie had this to say about that:

      Lucy, I think the only way is to ask them if they use pesticides on their plants, but they may buy in plants which have been treated and they may not know. The link is out of date, I should remove the item, but the good news is that Dave Goulson has raised all the money required.

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