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Daily News Blog

08
Feb

Garden Pesticide Use Harms Local Bird Populations, Study Authors Say “We Should Simply Ban These Poisons”

(Beyond Pesticides, February 8, 2023) Spraying pesticides around one’s garden negatively impacts local bird populations, according to research published by scientists at the University of Sussex, UK in Science of the Total Environment. Although this reasoning sounds common sense to those versed in the works of Rachel Carson, it underscores the immense importance of carrying on the legacy of her work and continuing to educate the public about the ongoing dangers posed by modern pesticides. As the study authors write, “Overall, our study shows that garden bird abundance and richness is strongly influenced by both extrinsic and intrinsic factors, and suggests that garden management, particularly regarding pesticide use, has a significant effect on bird life.”

Researchers collected data by partnering with the British Trust for Ornithology, which conducts annual citizen-science counts of bird populations in UK gardens. Nearly 24,000 residents participate in the survey, which also includes information about the urbanization level surrounding their gardens, and other habitat characteristics. A group of these volunteers were provided with a questionnaire about their pesticide practices between 2020-2021, recording information on how often the pesticides were applied, as well as the pesticide brand name. After removing incomplete or unusable data, 615 individual gardens were incorporated into the study.

To determine the factors impacting bird populations, researchers created a garden quality index (GQI) and surrounding quality index (SQI). GQI scores included factors such as the type and number of trees, the proportion of the garden planted with flowers, shrubs, vegetables, or allowed to be wild, the quality of shrubs and hedges, and the presence of water features. SQI scores included aspects like the type of nearby habitat (ex. woodland, scrubland, marsh) or nearby water body. To determine impacts to birds, researchers analyzed both bird abundance (total number of birds) and richness (total number of bird species) per recorded bird counts.

In general, bird abundance was found to be highest in rural areas when compared to urban and suburban areas. Gardens that had higher GQI scores also recorded more bird abundance and richness, while SQI appeared to only affect richness.  

Among study participants, 34.1% indicated they applied pesticides, with over 60% of that use being herbicides, followed by molluscicides (slug killing products) around 35%, insecticides at roughly 30% and fungicides at 10%. Pesticide spraying impacted the effect a positive SQI factor had on bird richness. Specifically, “species richness increases with the surrounding quality, both for gardens that do not use pesticides and for gardens that applied pesticides, but this effect is significantly less strong when pesticides are applied,” the study indicates. Scientists zeroed in on three active ingredients: the weed killer glyphosate, the neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid, and the synthetic pyrethroid deltamethrin as resulting in the most damaging pesticide impacts to bird species’ richness.

While abundance was not impacted on an overall basis, individual species did show negative relationships with the use of specific pesticides. The house sparrow, for example, although perhaps the most established invasive pest in the United States, is in steep decline in the UK. Results showed that house sparrow abundance declines by 12% in gardens applying any pesticide, but is nearly 25% lower in gardens specifically using glyphosate.

The study authors, including world renowned entomologist Dave Goulson, PhD, say their results support restrictions on pesticide use. “The UK has 22 million gardens, which collectively could be a fantastic refuge for wildlife, but not if they are overly tidy and sprayed with poisons. We just don’t need pesticides in our gardens. Many towns around the world are now pesticide free. We should simply ban the use of these poisons in urban areas, following the example of France,” Dr. Goulson told The Guardian.

As Beyond Pesticides reported in 2022, France enacted sweeping restrictions on both public and private use of toxic pesticides in sensitive landscaped areas. The policy implemented throughout populated areas in France generally tracks with similar restrictions enacted in most Canadian provinces, but only by a very few U.S. cities like South Portland and Portland, ME.

That pesticides are locally harming bird populations should come as no surprise; what is perhaps most concerning to advocates is that over 1 in 3 well-intentioned gardeners regularly applied toxic pesticides that put the birds they undoubtedly appreciate at risk.

In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson in the first chapter writes “A Fable for Tomorrow:”

“There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example—where had they gone? Many people
spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards were deserted. The
few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a
spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins,
catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only
silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”

Already, data show that the U.S. has lost 3 billion birds since the 1970s – 29% of the abundance seen during that decade. This study and its authors have a loud and clear message to all readers to relay to their friends and family: stop the home and garden use of pesticides. The choices we make whether to address a pest through chemical or ecological pest management has a major impact on the health of the wildlife in our immediate area; wildlife that many residents come to know well, and care about, as they watch their comings and goings through their window.

In the absence of meaningful action by U.S. federal or state governments to address rampant pesticide use in a way similar to France or many Canadian provinces, individual localities have filled the gap. However, in most states, this action is limited to restrictions on property owned by the local government, due to regressive, anti-democratic pesticide preemption laws. However, in the few states without these laws, like Maine and Maryland, local community policies that apply to both public and private property are showing immense success. Help fight back against pesticide industry efforts to roll back those victories and support a policy that would allow all communities to address pesticide use in a way that best reflects their resident’s values and unique local environment.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Guardian, Science of the Total Environment

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3 Responses to “Garden Pesticide Use Harms Local Bird Populations, Study Authors Say “We Should Simply Ban These Poisons””

  1. 1
    Mark T. Lundholm Says:

    I once worked on projects requiring my obtaining an herbicide/pesticide applicators license. I became aware of what some of these chemicals are, etc. I also obtained my OHSA 40 hour hazardous materials certificate and learned additionally about these materials. I have come to believe that many of these chemicals should no longer be used and should be banned. We must do a better job of obtaining and regulating herbicides and pesticides. I believe “healthier” and better alternatives exist and can be developed.

  2. 2
    Mark Glasser Says:

    This study and its authors have a loud and clear message to all readers to relay to their friends and family: stop the home and garden use of pesticides. The choices we make whether to address a pest through chemical or ecological pest management has a major impact on the health of the wildlife in our immediate area; wildlife that many residents come to know well, and care about, as they watch their comings and goings through their window.

    In the absence of meaningful action by U.S. federal or state governments to address rampant pesticide use in a way similar to France or many Canadian provinces, individual localities have filled the gap. However, in most states, this action is limited to restrictions on property owned by the local government, due to regressive, anti-democratic pesticide preemption laws. However, in the few states without these laws, like Maine and Maryland, local community policies that apply to both public and private property are showing immense success.

  3. 3
    Pam Wolbourn Says:

    THESE PESTICIDE DO DAMAGE TO EVERYTHING,HUMANS,ANIMALS,OUR PRECIOUS EARTH,,,PLEASE TAKE ACTION AGAINST THIS! THERE ARE BETTER CHOICES,,,HEALTHIER CHOICES!

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