In a meeting between the UK environment secretary Owen Paterson and members of campaign group 38 Degrees last week, Mr Paterson refused to back down on his opposition to the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, which research has shown as the primary cause of declining bee populations across Europe and North America.
At the meeting campaigners handed over a petition signed by 200,000 members of the group.
Mr Paterson’s motives were questioned after a letter released to the Observer under freedom of information rules revealed him telling the chemicals company Syngenta last week that he was “extremely disappointed” by the European commission’s proposed ban. He said that “the UK has been very active” in opposing it and “our efforts will continue and intensify in the coming days”.
Mr Paterson recently described the 80,000 emails he’d received on the subject as a “cyber attack”.
In an EU vote in March over whether to ban the pesticides, Mr Paterson representing the UK abstained. 13 countries supported a ban, nine opposed it and five abstained, meaning there were insufficient votes in favour for a ban to be imposed. A second round of voting will take place on Monday and campaigners are hoping that the UK and other countries will vote in favour this time round.
Professor David Goulson, a bee expert at the University of Sussex whose research has found harmful effects from neonicotinoids, said: “There is now a very substantial body of scientific evidence suggesting that this class of insecticides is impacting on health of wild bees, and perhaps other wildlife too. It is time for the EU’s politicians to take a responsible position and support this ban.”