First of its kind research programme comes to the Channel Islands

man adjusting malaise tent in field

A collaboration between the Pollinator Project and the University of Bristol has secured a near £1 million grant from the UK to study Channel Island pollinators.

woman in a wood

Dr Miranda Bane, who grew up on Guernsey, will be leading the work in Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney and Sark and will be looking at the abundance and diversity of pollinators across the islands.

The research is unique in studying what happens to the number and variety of pollinators in the real world as pesticide use reduces. It’s the first in the world to do this on an entire island and it will also showcase the Channel Islands for the first time as a world leader in this research area.

Miranda said: “I have always been inspired by the beautiful nature on our island. To be able to bring research expertise on pollinators back to the islands, to help protect and enhance our natural environment, has been my goal since choosing an academic career. It has taken almost 4 years, a lot of hard work and the invaluable support of so many people to secure this research grant. I am so grateful for all the support and so excited to be working on my dream project.”

Professor Jane Memmott from the University of Bristol is head of the UK research team who will regularly visit the islands. Professor Memmott said: “Islands can be viewed as microcosms of the world, large enough to be realistic, but small enough to be tractable for study. And I’m really excited to be working with a team on the Channel Islands for the next four years on pollinators and pesticides.”

The funding enables four years of research on pollinating insects across Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney, and Sark. It’s a long-term look at these beneficial insects including bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, beetles and moths and aims to answer questions about the impacts of pesticides on their numbers and will help support future conservation efforts.

Opportunities available in 2024

The money which is being provided by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) will create a number of on-island career opportunities from early next year including a full-time research technician post, annual research internships, a PhD position, and several Master’s degree study opportunities. It will also fund DNA analysis and testing for the presence of pesticides in pollinators through a world-class Canadian laboratory.

Work has been going on since 2019 in preparation with teams of citizen scientists led by Miranda collecting baseline data. In addition States Works have stopped using glyphosate and  the States of Guernsey’s 2022 restriction on the sale of glyphosate products have all contributed to a reduction in use.

Latest news…

Glyphosate-To ban or not to ban?

Glyphosate. To ban or not ban, that is the question being considered by the States of Deliberation in Guernsey next month. Frankly, removing the most widely used herbicide in the world from our streets, fields and gardens could be a great thing for the environment and pollinators in particular. And we firmly support the elimination of all pesticides from our daily lives.
But as with many things, it’s complex.  There is clear and strong evidence that Glyphosate kills bees and other insects. There are also significant human health concerns around the world. Several towns, cities and even countries around the world have banned its use in part or completely. And its sale to or use by members of the public is not allowed in Guernsey.
So why not ban it completely and immediately? There are of course consequences.
Pesticide use will continue
We believe that users will look for alternative pesticides to glyphosate whether they are farmers, growers, contractors or consumers. These may have more toxic effects on the environment and might be more difficult to apply, leading to contamination issues. Currently, there is no way of knowing what is brought onto the island and what is used, apart from very toxic and controlled chemicals. The Border Agency has told us they do not have the systems or resources to monitor imports of pesticides.
Farmers are vulnerable
We have seen emergency subsidies paid to farmers in recent months. Although we are in favour of organic farming, converting all of Guernsey’s farms may see either a rise in milk prices or farmers pushed closer to financial instability. We know that E&I are planning to produce a sustainable agriculture plan, and we will be approaching them to ensure that organic and pesticide free options are part of those considerations.
Control of invasive plants currently relies on Glyphosate
While some trials of electrical systems have taken place in the UK results so far are limited and the control of Japanese Knotweed in particular relies on the use of glyphosate. We’d like to see a full exploration of these alternatives, but currently the very limited resources dealing with invasive species do rely on glyphosate.
The alternatives and our work programme
We work with the Environment Committee, HSE, Guernsey Water and Waste and others to reduce pesticide use and promote safe alternatives.
In addition, you will hear us call for
  1. Tighter restrictions on the use of glyphosate by contractors- we see no need to spray pesticides for cosmetic reasons, especially in domestic settings
  2. Inclusion of pesticide free options in the SoG sustainable agriculture plan
  3. Monitoring of pesticide imports at point of entry
  4. A rapid elimination of all pesticides from all education, health and care settings
  5. Budget to promote and communicate the alternatives

 

Pesticides – yes or no?

We welcome the debate on the use of pesticides on the island, in particular glyphosate, and are supportive of both the expertise in HSE and the alternatives used by States Works.

Health issues

Some people have suggested Guernsey follows the example of the USA. It’s clear that the USA has a liberal attitude to all sorts of things, from gun ownership to pesticide use. While its environmental protection authority does approve glyphosate, there are thousands of court cases in the USA where previous users have established a link with the use of Roundup and cancer and have been awarded $millions in damages. Perhaps a better example is the EU which says glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen” and is reviewing its future use. Its general use has been banned or dropped in many places around the world including France, Belgium, much of Canada, Bath, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Guildford, and Reading to name but a few.

Safety tests

You might ask hasn’t glyphosate been tested before being sold? And the answer is similar to the situation with DDT and all other pesticides- it was tested in the lab, and for its overall toxicity, but not in every situation in which it’s used. It takes time for all the effects of any pesticide to be uncovered, and that is certainly true of glyphosate. Aside from the public health issues, it has been directly shown to harm many of our vital pollinating insects. These “sub-lethal” effects have very recently been shown again in bumblebees, where exposure to glyphosate affects the ability of the bees to manage temperatures in the nest. The evidence around these effects continues to build and the volume of beneficial insects in Europe and UK declines. And remember, if we lose our pollinators, we lose our wild flowers, and much of our food, never mind our gardens.

Alternatives

There are plenty of alternatives, from the mechanical means (hoes, strimming, pulling, cutting, mowing), to leaving the plants flower and appreciating their beauty, to organic chemicals. It is possible to be pesticide-free and still keep our formal areas formal, but take a natural approach and support wildflowers wherever they grow.

What about other pesticides?

Supporting nature is definitely the Guernsey way, so perhaps the question we should be asking is “should we allow glyphosate or any other pesticides to be used at all?” The answer in France is no, they have banned pesticides for cosmetic purposes, for domestic use and in sensitive areas including public parks, gardens, and playgrounds. We are in Guernsey, in many ways even more vulnerable to contamination by pesticides, as our drinking water comes from rainfall and the recent ban by HSE seeks to address this.