Call for clarity on ‘ambiguous’ pesticide spraying rules

Growers and advisers are calling on regulators, agrochemical manufacturers and the NFU to clarify rules for protecting non-target arthropods around field margins against pesticide spray drift.

A buffer zone to protect non-target arthropods – invertebrate insects such as bees and beetles – was first introduced in 1989 when applying pyrethroid insecticides to cereals during the summer.

The rules were updated in the mid-1990s and again in 2002, with statutory or advisory 5m or 6m buffer zones now in place for certain products, depending on the risk they pose to fauna around field boundaries.

HSE answers non-target arthropod buffer zone questions

The rules have largely gone unnoticed until recently, but as existing products are re-registered by agrochemical firms, non-target arthropod buffers are beginning to appear on more and more labels.

See also: Know your pesticide limits in aquatic buffer zones

Norfolk grower Kit Papworth of contract farming company LF Papworth and his staff spend a lot of time training through the winter and in particular, staying up to date on legislation.

This winter, he noticed the appearance of an increasing number of arthropod buffer zones for products he uses across a wide range of crops on the company’s rented and contract-farmed land.

“Although the list of chemicals is relatively small at the moment, the concern is that many growers aren’t aware of this legislation.

“Its wording is also very ambiguous and where they are statutory, growers could easily be caught out and risk losing money from an already reduced basic payment,” he says.

Growers could face losing 5% of their single farm and/or rural development scheme payments if found to be using a pesticide in an unauthorised manner. If the action was deemed intentional, that could rise to as much as 30%.

Vague phrases

The ambiguous wording of the legislation on product labels that Mr Papworth refers to includes “respect an unsprayed buffer zone of (specified distance) to non-crop land” – which is a statutory requirement.

There is also a voluntary phrase that instructs, “avoid spraying/application within 5m of the field boundary to reduce effects on non-target insects or other arthropods”. Those committed to best practice would observe this buffer.

Mr Papworth is concerned that “respect” could be interpreted as non-compulsory, with the potential for sprayer operators falling into a trap of ignoring the buffer zone.

“So far, we have had no fuss from the NFU or manufacturers and I would have thought that would be the case, as we could easily get caught out.

“It could also compromise product choice, as some products with the same active may or may not have a statutory buffer, so it makes life difficult for spray operators if they have the two different labels in store,” he adds.

Contract farmers

With LF Papworth growing crops on behalf of landowners under contract farming agreements or renting land for high-value crops such as potatoes, he needs to ensure he’s getting value from every last acre.

Mr Papworth points out that all the land the company farm is managed in an environmentally conscious way, with most in ELS or HLS schemes, but he feels the buffer legislation is going against optimising crops on land he is managing or paying for.

Along with aquatic buffer zones, it may be necessary to have an unsprayed strip around every field boundary, so in some cases he may have to avoid planting headlands altogether.

“Aquatic buffers are a vital part of what we do and it is crucial we have these environmental protection measures in place, but protecting along roadsides is just crazy.

“I can’t see there being a change, as it is important that we keep existing products and get new products registered to complement integrated pest management (IPM), but there needs to be a balance and some clarity on the rules,” says Mr Papworth.

Adviser headaches

Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) chairman Patrick Stephenson is also calling for clarity on the issue, with the legislation causing arable advisers headaches too.

In a scenario where two products designed for the same job and with similar efficacy, one may have an arthropod buffer zone and the other may not.

A good example of this is DuPont fungicide Vertisan (penthiopyrad), which offers a cost-effective cereal disease control option this season, but has an arthropod buffer zone and potentially gives competing products an advantage.

Mr Stephenson plans to opt for the one without a buffer through fear of causing problems for himself or his clients related to the legislation down the line.

He calls on manufacturers and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to provide answers to the questions. “We are all running scared of the RPA and it is something it could raise at an inspection.

“It is also unfair on certain manufacturers, as some products have them and others not, but it’s unclear why. Is it because they don’t have the data to prove they harm non-target insects or because they actually do cause harm?

“If it is the latter, then fair enough. I think the industry would accept that,” he adds.

Tighter restriction

Bayer CropScience regulatory affairs manager Janet Williams says all pesticides are now being reviewed under the latest, tighter guidance from European regulators, which is causing the increase in non-target arthropod buffers.

The research data manufacturers are obliged to provide on their products includes their effect on two sensitive standard species – a parasitic wasp and a predatory mite.

Depending on the degree of effect the pesticide has on these crop-friendly species, regulators can enforce a change in the application frequency or interval; change the timing of application or unsprayed headlands to protect insects in the crop.

To protect insects in off-field areas, they may also request a buffer zone or drift reduction technology is used during application. Without accepting these restrictions, manufacturers’ products wouldn’t be approved at all.

“We try to conduct these studies to gather the data in advance and prevent these measures from appearing on the label, but sometimes it isn’t available at the time of submission.

“If it becomes available, it can be submitted later for restrictions to be removed, but sometimes the data does indicate a risk to these species, so there is a need for the warning statements.

“It is certainly better to have products with restrictions than no products at all,” says Mrs Williams.

She adds that for insecticide products restrictions are likely on new approvals, but unlikely on fungicide and herbicide labels in the future.

The HSE answers non-target arthropod buffer zone questions

What is a non-target arthropod buffer zone and why are they important?

A non-target arthropod buffer zone is a distance from non-crop land that must not be sprayed (see below). They may be required to protect non-target arthropods in the off-field area and/or to protect non-target arthropod populations in the cropped area (through providing a source population from which recolonisation of the treated area can take place).


Where can I find out if a product requires a non-target arthropod buffer zone?

By looking at the product label or looking at the product’s conditions of authorisation on the Pesticides Register. If the product has a buffer zone to protect arthropods then the following phrase will be on the notice:

To protect non-target insects/arthropods respect an unsprayed buffer zone of 5 or 6 m to non-crop land.

On the label they will appear in Safety Precautions – Environmental Protection in the following format:

To protect non-target insects/arthropods respect an unsprayed buffer zone of (distance to be specified in metres) to non-crop land.

However, note as stated below they can also be advisory and so the label phrases will be different.

What is the definition of non-crop land when related to a non-target arthropod buffer zone?

“Non-crop land” includes non-agricultural land as well as off-field boundary habitats, such as hedgerows and land permanently taken out of agricultural production.

It should be noted that buffer strips might be temporarily established and managed in some way (for example, sown with a wild flower mixture).

These buffer strips are still considered cropped land for the purposes of this labeling and so an additional buffer zone would not normally be required to protect a temporary buffer strip already established for this purpose. Because, by their very nature, these buffer strips may become “wildlife havens”, users should, however, take precautions to reduce spray drift onto them.

If I already have a field margin in place, is that enough for a non-target arthropod buffer zone?

It will depend on the width of the field margin. There does need to be a buffer zone of the required distance between cropped land treated with the pesticide and any non-crop land.

Are non-target arthropod buffer zones product or crop specific?

Product specific.

What pesticides do they apply to and are any higher risk?

They are typically required for insecticides, but may also be required for some fungicide products. A buffer zone for non-target arthropods will only be required where a potential risk has been identified for that particular product.

If a non-target arthropod buffer zone is on the label, is it compulsory to implement?

If the precaution phrase is in the format above then yes, it must be followed.

Sometimes it is advisory, in which case the product label will say:

“Risk to non-target insects or other arthropods. See Directions for use.”

The following associated advisory buffer zone phrase should then appear in the “Directions for use” section of the label:

“Avoid [spraying/application*] within 5m of the field boundary to reduce effects on non-target insects or other arthropods. (* ‘application’ is intended for use with solid products).”

In this case it is not compulsory to follow the advice, but it would be good practice to do so.

Do I need to record non-target arthropod buffer zones as I do a Local Environment Risk Assessment for Pesticides (Lerap) when spraying?