The State of Nature 2016 1 report describes Britain as being “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”. The once-familiar hedgehog is almost gone, its population down more than 90% since the 1950s. 2  The total wild bird population of the UK has fallen by 44 million since 1970. 3 The ranges of our wild orchids on average halved in the same period. Butterflies, moths and beetle populations all show alarming evidence of long-term decline. There is abundant evidence from scientific studies that industrial farming systems, and in particular the growing reliance of farmers on a barrage of pesticides, has played a significant role in driving these declines. Conventional, industrial farming sees the repeated application of multiple pesticides to our landscape on a breath-taking scale. About 500 different ‘active ingredients’ (i.e. poisons) are licensed for use in the EU. 4 In 2016, 16.9 thousand tonnes of ‘active ingredient’ were applied to the farmlands of Great Britain, comprising 5.9 thousand tonnes of fungicide, 7.8 thousand tonnes of herbicide, and 315 tonnes of insecticide 5 (this excludes veterinary, amenity, and domestic use of pesticides). The number of pesticide applications to crops continues to rise; on average, each farmers’ field was treated with 17 different pesticide applications in 2016, approximately double the number of pesticide applications made 25 years ago 6 . In short, our farmland is being subjected to a massive barrage of poisons, leading to contamination of soils, hedgerows, rivers and ponds. All farmland wildlife is being chronically exposed to a complex mixture of pesticides, the effects of which are far beyond the capacity of scientists to predict or understand. 7 , 8 The same is true of the effects on humans consuming food generated in this way, for from conception onwards we are also chronically exposed to mixtures of pesticides in our food and drink. 9 , 10 The regulatory system for pesticides has repeatedly failed to prevent harmful chemicals from being approved for use in our countryside; for example the organochlorides, organophosphates, and neonicotinoids were only banned after decades of use and environmental damage. As Ian Boyd,Defra’s chief scientists, recently admitted “ The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation—that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales—is false ”. 3 It is often argued that pesticides are essential if we are to feed the world. However, recent studies suggest that much pesticide use is unnecessary, and that most farmers would be financially better off if they used fewer pesticides. 11 Many pesticides are now used prophylactically, rather than in response to a pest problem. 3 Despite the enormous number of pesticides plus synthetic fertilisers used in industrial farming, organic farming manages to produce on average 80 to 92% of the yield. 12 , 13 Organic farming receives just 0.5% of global spend on farming research and development, 14 and so it is highly likely that this gap could be closed (in contrast £ billions have been invested in developing new chemicals, crop varieties etc. for industrial farming). With small savings in food waste (currently about 30% of food is wasted 15 ) and slight reductions in meat consumption, pesticides could become unnecessary. 

PROFESSOR DAVE GOULSON, UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX

References:
1. State of Nature report (2016). [Online]
rspb.org.uk/stateofnature(Accessed 25/07/2018)
2. Wembridge, D. (2011) The state of Britain’s hedgehogs 2011 [Online]. Available at: 
https://www.bto.org/sites/default/files/u12/state_of_hedgehog.pdf(Accessed 11/09/2018)
3. RSPB (2012) The state of the UK’s Birds [Online]. Available at: 
http://ww2.rspb.org.uk/Images/SUKB_2012_tcm9-328339.pdf(Accessed 11/09/2018)
4. Milner, A.M., Boyd, I.L. (2017) Toward pesticidovigilance.
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5. Defra (2018) Pesticide Usage Statistic, Fera. Available online:
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