This week a new label for plant sales has been launched by the National Botanic Garden of Wales to help protect pollinators from plants containing insecticides. The story has been picked up on nationally though I think the significance of the story may be lost on some.
Currently, many plants are sold as being beneficial for pollinators. If you go shopping at a garden centre or nursery you may see labels with the RHS Plants for pollinators badge on. This is a very useful resource listing plants the RHS have deemed to be useful for pollinators. The lists are very useful. They list plants by season that are beneficial. This allows you to plan your garden to have plants in flower through the year to help the pollinators in your garden. Which is all great!
However, many of the plants sold with the RHS ‘plants for pollinators’ label may have been grown using pesticides. This will mean that the plants you are buying to help may actually be harming the wildlife. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that. In tests where plants bought with the perfect for pollinator label, 76% contained at least one insecticide and 38% contained two or more insecticides. The RHS has been discussing changing the label since 2017 but has shown little leadership in making the change. I imagine it would ruffle too many feathers withing the Horticulture Trade Association and the RHS sponsors. But it is a change that needs to come so consumers can buy without engaging in a Russian Roulette of whether they potentially harm the insects they are trying to help.
The plants containing pesticides causes harm to the pollinators and has been linked to colony collapse disorder. But it can also affect food up the food chain. Birds and mammals such as hedgehogs can be affected by eating these poisoned pollinators. It has been hypothesised that eating the infected insects may lead to the birds becoming denourished. It has also been shown that birds eating the neonicotinoids directly may lead to bird deaths. You would have thought we would learn from our past mistakes where the pesticide Organochlorine led to a decline in birds of prey as the eggshells ended up thinner but we obviously haven’t. On top of the decline of birds, many of these pesticides have been strongly linked to cancer in humans. While glyphosate was banned here in the UK companies like Bayer have just developed alternatives that are likely to be as harmful.
So having painted a rather gloomy picture there I hope you can see why the Botanic Gardens new ‘saving pollinators’ logo on plant sales is so significant. The label will indicate that these plants have been grown without any pesticides whatsoever. This will give consumers peace of mind that the plants they are buying are beneficial for pollinators and they don’t have any hidden surprises. Currently, the new label is being taken on by a series of Welsh nurseries but it would be great to see this go national.
In the meantime what can you do to ensure the health of your plants for pollinators? You can buy direct from several nurseries. More and more nurseries are advertising the fact that they are pesticide-free and peat-free. Alternatively, you can grow from seed. While some seeds sold are coated in pesticides this is used more in agriculture than horticulture. But again, companies advertising their eco-credentials. A number of the nurseries on Dog Wood Days Peat-free list state that they don’t use pesticides. The RHS plants for pollinators lists are still a valuable resource for planning for wildlife gardening but the label isn’t a guarantee of safety. Hopefully, in time, we can see the Welsh saving pollinators badge adopted nationwide.