pesticides, herbicides & other chemicals

Man spraying plants in garden

With a fully balanced range of wildlife in and around your garden, the use of chemical pesticides and weedkillers should not be necessary.

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To ensure we support our songbirds, we must encourage insects to thrive as we rely on them as a major part of our ecosystem. Not only are they food for songbirds but they pollinate our plants, and weeds can also have benefits for supporting insects and producing food for birds.

What is wrong with pesticides?

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The major problem with using pesticides is that they do not discriminate. You may be attempting to target one species in your garden, but many other species will also be affected by the pesticides. The effects on our pollinators like honeybees and bumblebees have been widely documented. We also don’t know the wider effects of using pesticides on bird species, but we are conducting research on this to find out more.

Snail in grass

Songbirds need a variety of things to survive, including;

    Food, water, shelter, and nesting materials for breeding. Using harsh chemicals in the garden can make some of these harder to acquire.

    Weedkillers are not wildlife friendly – native weeds are one of the essentials needed for native insects, birds, and mammals. Some species of weeds can provide great materials for nesting as well as a food source. Lawn feed and weed is also not recommended. Lawns are a wonderful resource for a wide range of wildlife, but they need to include mixed flowers and weeds to offer the right habitat for wildlife.

    What can I use instead of harsh chemicals?

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    If your garden is young and you haven’t yet achieved the full range of wildlife then you may, initially, need some artificial assistance to keep pests in check. If you do use chemicals, make sure it is sparingly and don’t spray everything. There are many vegetable-based pesticides available; they often need more applications than harsh chemicals, but it means that any bird or insect eating the dead pests will not be harmed. There are lots of alternatives to discourage pests from taking over your garden, including:

    • ‘Companion planting’ is a popular method for helping to control pests and to improve yields of plants. This is a practice where you grow a variety of plants next to each other, to encourage different insects including pollinators, some of which may eat common pest species. Strawberry plants have been found to have better yields when companion planted with borage, and planting French marigolds next to tomatoes has been shown to protect them from whiteflies through the release of natural chemicals.
    • You can find pest-resistant plants at your local garden centre.
    • Slugs and snails can be restricted with natural barriers, such as beer traps, oatmeal, copper bands or natural slug deterrents. The use of slug pellets containing metaldehyde are now banned for sale and use in the UK, as they cause untold damage to wildlife including birds, hedgehogs and even domestic dogs and cats.
    • More aggressive weeds can be manually dealt with, but many native weeds are extremely pretty and make excellent additions to bird borders and wild areas. 
    • Our native wildlife is the best way to keep our gardens in check! Slugs and snails are controlled by blackbirds, thrushes, frogs and hedgehogs, aphids are controlled by ladybirds and tits, and caterpillars are controlled by tits and finches.
    Insect on flowers in meadow
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    Conboy, N.J.A., McDaniel, T., Ormerod, A., George, D., Gatehouse, A.M.R., Wharton, E., Donohoe, P., Curtis, R., Tosh, C.R. (2019) Companion planting with French marigolds protects tomato plants from glasshouse whiteflies through the emission of airborne limonene. PLoS One. 14(3): e0213071. 

    Griffiths-Lee, J., Nicholls, E., Goulson, D. (2020) Companion planting to attract pollinators increases the yield and quality of strawberry fruit in gardens and allotments. Ecological Entomology. 45(5)P: 1025-1034.

    Tassin de Montaigu, C., Goulson, D. (2021) Field evidence of UK wild bird exposure to fludioxonil and extrapolation to other pesticides used as seed treatments. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. 29: 22151-22162

    Tassin de Montaigu, C., Goulson, D. (2020) Identifying agricultural pesticides that may pose a risk for birds. PeerJ. 8:e9526

    Van der Sluijs, J. P. (2020) Insect decline, an emerging global environmental risk. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 46:39-42

    Woodcock, B.A., Bullock, J.M., Shore, R.F., Heard, M.S., Pereira, M.G., Redhead, J., Ridding, L., Dean, H., Sleep, D., Henrys, P., Peyton, J., Hulmes, S., Hulmes, L., Sárospataki, M., Saure, C., Edwards, M., Genersch, E., Knäbe, S., Pywell, R.F. (2017) Country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees. Science. 356(6345): 1393-1395

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