Bee on oilseed rape© FLPA/Rex Shutterstock

The High Court has dismissed a legal challenge to prevent oilseed growers from using neonicotinoid seed treatments.

Campaigners from Friends of the Earth were challenging a government decision allowing a limited amount of two neonicotinoid-based products to be used on oilseed rape crops.

In a ruling announced on Thursday (12 November), the High Court concluded that the challenge was “unarguable on all the grounds”.

The ruling was welcomed by the NFU, which had successfully applied for an emergency authorisation allowing farmers to use a limited amount of neonicotinoids earlier this year.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said: “I’m extremely pleased with today’s outcome.

See also: Neonicotinoid ban ‘may be permanent’

“The NFU has played an active role in this case, and we have been working hard to ensure that our members’ interests have been represented to the court.”

Authorisations obtained by the NFU during the summer permitted neonicotinoid-treated seed to be planted across 5% of the total national oilseed rape crop area.

The treated seed was targeted at crops in parts of eastern England at highest risk from cabbage stem flea beetle – a major pest of winter oilseed rape.

Mr Smith said it was “crucial” to have an emergency authorisation mechanism so growers could apply to use neonicotinoids despite a two-year EU-wide moratorium on the products.

The NFU continues to dispute claims that neonicotinoids are damaging to pollinators.

An NFU Healthy Harvest campaign has been urging governments at an EU and domestic level to look to “sound science” as a basis for any restrictions on plant protection products.

Mr Smith said the NFU had approached what was a highly charged issue in a sober, balanced manner that looked after growers’ interests while respecting the needs of wildlife.

NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said the union had fought for months on behalf of growers who had struggled to establish oilseed rape crops in the face of flea beetle.

Damage caused by the pest had been a widespread problem since restrictions on neonicotinoid use came into force in December 2013, said Mr Hambly.

He added: “The seed treatment provides an efficient and targeted solution.”

Friends of the Earth expressed disappointment and concern after the High Court refused its application for a judicial review of the government’s decision.

The environment group is now considering taking the case to the Court of Appeal.

It said the court’s ruling related to the legal process surrounding the government’s decision to let growers use neonicotinoids – not the science behind restrictions on the pesticides.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Dave Timms insisted there was “clear and growing evidence” that neonicotinoid pesticides were a significant threat to bees and other pollinators.

“It’s extremely disappointing that our application to challenge the government’s decision to allow the use of banned, bee-harming pesticides has been turned down.

“We believe this ruling is flawed, ignores important facts and gives too much credibility to pesticide industry evidence to support the use of its own products.

“We are now considering an appeal.”