Correlation between pesticides and the decline of meadow birds prompts questions in Dutch Parliament

Media attention and Parliament debate: the correlation between pesticides and the decline in meadow birds


Meadow bird populations continue to decline

Despite the many subsidies for farmers to protect birds, meadow birds populations in The Netherlands continue to decline strongly. This observation prompted Buijs Agro-Services and WECF to conduct an investigation into possible relationships between the survival of meadow birds and the presence of pesticides on livestock farms.

Pesticides found on all farms

Tests were done on 25 livestock farms, including 9 organic farms that do not use pesticides. Nevertheless, on all farms pesticides were found (soil, fodder, manure). Despite the fact that many farms do not apply pesticides themselves, these arrive through the concentrated feed and litter externally purchased. Also, on almost all the farms, the break-down product of Glyphosate (AMPA, from Round-Up Monsanto Bayer) was found in soil samples.

Correlation between insect decline and pesticides

The animal dung, containing the pesticide residues, is used on the agricultural land and leads to soil pollution with these chemicals, and a decline of insects. There were less beetles in fresh manure when the level of pesticides found was higher. Insects are the main source of food for meadow birds. We correlated this with other research which shows that bird chicks do not survive because of lack of insects to eat. From the 25 farms tested, 2 organic farms together account for more than 50% of all breeding bird pairs. These 2 organic farms also had amongst the lowest levels of pesticides found.

Scientists supporting the research

The publication with the results was presented on 12 April 2019,  at a meeting with more than 120 participants in the Gelderland provincial parliament in the city of Arnhem.

Speakers included Prof. F. Berendse, Prof. J.D. van Mansvelt, researchers Jelmer Buijs and Margriet Mantingh of WECF, Marianne van Bree from Bionext and cattle farmer Jan Dirk van de Voort (who also featured in our #GoodFood4all campaign).

During the discussion, toxicologist and project partner Dr. Ir. Tennekes stressed the dangers of the neonicotinoids for biodiversity in particular.

Photo: counting insects in manure  (credit Margriet Mantingh)

Agricultural sector opposed the report

Our report has received much attention in the media. The agricultural sector was not happy with the report and proclaimed that the conclusions were unfounded. In an ‘interpretation’ of the research report, Wageningen Environmental Research researchers gave their views on the report. WECF Netherlands and Buijs Agro-Services have responded to the WER with the support of the 7 outstanding scientists that supported the research process.

As a result of our report, questions were put to Mrs Carola Schouten, the Minister of Agriculture by the Dutch Parliament. A debate on our research report and the possible link between pesticides and bird decline, will take place on 6 June 2019 in Dutch Parliament.

The publication and more information on the project can be found here in Dutch