oilseed rape in flower© Tim Scrivener

A High Court judge has been asked to decide if a legal challenge can be made to try to block farmers in England from using neonicotinoid pesticides.

Members of the Friends of the Earth (FoE) group are challenging Defra’s decision to temporarily lift the EU ban for a select number of oilseed rape growers this autumn.

The government granted a 120-day easing of the EU-wide two-year ban to allow farmers in four English counties to drill oilseed rape seeds coated with neonicotinoids this autumn.

See also: Neonicotinoid emergency use approved for 5% of OSR area

The NFU, which successfully applied for the derogation, said it allowed a limited area of the OSR crop in England – about 30,000ha – to be planted using neonicotinoid-treated rapeseed.

The union said the derogation would protect oilseed rape growers from the serious threat of cabbage stem flea beetle attacks, which have devastated crops in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and other counties in eastern England.

Lawyers acting on behalf of FoE will try to force a judicial review on the matter at the High Court in London on Thursday (5 November).

They will argue that the decision was “wrong and unlawful” and “flies in the face of scientific evidence”, which suggests the use of these pesticides is harmful to bee populations.

Writing in a blog, FoE campaigner Dave Timms explained why the group was taking on the government.

“At the core of our legal case is our belief that the government has not followed the rules set out by European law for granting an emergency authorisation of a pesticide.

“This requires that it should be in response to an emergency, that it should be limited and controlled and that it couldn’t have been dealt with by any other reasonable means.

“We also believe that the government’s action goes against a European Directive, which obliges it to pursue a practice known as Integrated Pest Management – prioritising non-chemical ways to control pests an minimising the use of pesticides at every opportunity.”

FoE said the NFU had made it clear that it would submit further applications for neonicotinoid use next year.

An NFU spokeswoman said the union would not be commenting until after the outcome of Thursday’s hearing.

A Defra spokeswoman said: “The EU Commission introduced precautionary restrictions on neonicotinoids from December 2013, which the UK has fully implemented.

“The government makes decisions on pesticides based on the recommendations of senior scientists and independent experts who have looked at the best available scientific evidence.

“It would not be appropriate for us to comment further on ongoing legal proceedings.”