A BUMBLEBEE expert has slammed the government's decision to allow a "lethal" pesticide which was previously banned in the UK.

European Union member states banned the outdoor use of neonicotinoid pesticides in 2018.

The ban was hailed as a "major victory” by campaigners, as various studies showed the dangers the chemicals pose to bees and other pollinators.

SEE ALSO: European countries ban ‘bee-harming’ pesticides

Michal Gove, who was Environment Secretary at the time, supported the ban and said the restrictions would be kept following Brexit.

But the government has since approved the use of one neonicotinoid pesticide to tackle a crop disease affecting sugar beet.

The Argus: Professor Dave GoulsonProfessor Dave Goulson

Professor of biology Dave Goulson, who specialises in ecology and conservation of bees and other insects at the University of Sussex, described the government's decision as "foolish".

He said: "It's putting short term economic gain before the health of the environment.

READ MORE: Professor warns of ‘insect apocalypse’

"These chemicals are very poisonous to all insect life. Once in the soil they stay there for several years, and we also know they leach into streams and affect aquatic life too.

"Three quarters of the crops we grow need pollinating by insects. Most of the fruit and veg in our supermarkets was pollinated by bees, which we take for granted.

"Nature depends on them too - 87 per cent of the world's plants need pollinating.

"It would be a catastrophe if they were to disappear."

The Argus: Photo: Emily Beament/PAPhoto: Emily Beament/PA

Professor Goulson, who is also the founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, said neonicotinoid pesticides are so lethal that just five grams on a tea spoon is enough to kill 1.25 billion honey bees.

He said: "It's mind-boggling. This is really potent stuff.

"These chemicals harm other insects too, which play all sorts of roles in our ecosystem, as food to other animals and dispersing seeds for example.

"We really ought to be looking after them better - there must be another way."

The government's decision to allow the use of neonicotinoid thiamethoxam comes after an application from the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and British Sugar to combat beet yellows virus on sugar beet crops, which is spread by aphids.

Environmental campaigner Chris Todd of Brighton Friends of the Earth said the government should be helping farmers overcome the issue with other methods.

He said: "There are other ways and if they've not been tested yet the government should be fast-tracking that.

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"They made a clear promise and they've broken it. All we've seen since Brexit is delay in terms of the Environment Bill, and now we're seeing measures being weakened by allowing this very dangerous chemical to be used again.

"If you don't have pollinators that affects crop production and a lot of the systems we rely on, which can then have an economic impact as food becomes more expensive."

Earlier this week The Wildlife Trusts announced plans for a legal challenge to the government's decision, as they believe it could be unlawful.

In June last year, a rare species of bee was spotted in Lewes Cemetery for the first time in 50 years after the site became a "pesticide-free zone". 

A spokesman for Defra said: “Emergency authorisations for pesticides are only granted in exceptional circumstances where diseases or pests cannot be controlled by any other reasonable means.

"Emergency authorisations are used by countries across Europe.

“Pesticides can only be used where we judge there to be no harm to human health and animal health and no unacceptable risks to the environment.

"The temporary use of this product is strictly limited to a non-flowering crop and will be tightly controlled to minimise any potential risk to pollinators."