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BERLIN (dpa-AFX) – To protect endangered insects, stricter requirements for farmers when using pesticides in fields and meadows are to apply in the future. This is provided for in a law by Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD), which the Bundestag passed on Thursday after a long struggle in the coalition. This is intended to expand particularly protected areas and to prevent problems with bright light sources at night as “insect traps”. The package also includes rules for the exit from the controversial weed killer glyphosate, which the Federal Council is supposed to seal this Friday. Farmers protest sharply. For additional costs, they should receive millions in compensation.
“Those who protect insects today will secure tomorrow’s agriculture,” said Schulze. Insects are pollinators and also a kind of “natural rubbish collection”. However, due to an enormous decline in their number and diversity, these services threatened to be lost. And pesticides have so far been one of the most important causes of insect death. There was widespread criticism of the plans from the opposition.
Specifically, additional areas are now to be placed under special protection, which are important habitats for insects: Meadows with scattered fruit trees, species-rich pastures, stone bars and dry stone walls. In many protected areas, the use of chemicals that are harmful to insects, such as wood preservatives, should also be restricted. For the first time there are also plans to contain “light pollution” – that is, nocturnal insects are attracted by lighting and then die.
In nature reserves, for example, new lighting on streets and paths as well as new brightly shining advertising systems are to be banned. “Insect-killing lamps”, which attract animals with artificial light, should be taboo outside of closed rooms. In future, it will also be possible to prevent the use of spotlights, such as those shining up into the night sky for example during “laser shows” – especially during the peak bird flight times in spring and autumn. This specifically does not mean lighthouses, as it is called in the design.
Farmers are directly affected by a regulation that Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) contributes as the second part of the package – with specifications for pesticides. If the Federal Council agrees on Friday, they may in principle only be used near larger rivers and lakes at a distance of at least ten meters. In the case of permanently green bank strips, a distance of five meters applies. Weedkillers are to be banned in certain protected areas, with exceptions, for example, for fruit growing and viticulture.
There are also rules for a gradual end for products with the active ingredient glyphosate (Bayer). First of all, the use in gardens and allotments, parks and sports fields is to be banned and severely restricted in the fields. This should be completely over from January 1, 2024. This is based on the fact that the EU approval for glyphosate will expire at the end of 2022, but there will still be transition periods for sale. According to the draft, a review of the regulations may be necessary depending on the decision at EU level.
Farmers are protesting against the plans after stricter requirements were also imposed on fertilization. In the fields, the restrictions mean more effort to remove weeds, for example by plowing. The federal government therefore wants to offer an additional 65 million euros earmarked for farms, which therefore have additional costs. “With the current package, we are reliably rewarding the farmers’ commitment to more insect protection,” said Klöckner of the dpa. A total of 250 million euros is available for this through a federal-state program. It will also ensure that farmers can continue to control pests that threaten harvests.
Schulze emphasized that a fair solution had been found that took different starting points into account and opened up different paths to the goal. Voluntary agreements in the federal states remained possible. The Ministry of the Environment made it clear that there is a need for action: The extent of insect death is “dramatic and scientifically proven” and not a local phenomenon. Wasps, bumblebees and co. Have important functions – in addition to pollination, for example when decomposing plant and animal material and as food for other animals. Studies have shown particular populations of birds that eat small insects and spiders during the breeding season.
The farmers are also committed to the goal of insect protection, as farmers’ president Joachim Rukwied made clear. However, he attacked the approach sharply: With this “failed” package, there was now a threat of blanket bans on plant protection. Agriculture in protected areas is being called into question. “This is a massive loss of confidence and a heavy burden for cooperative nature conservation.” The environmental organization WWF called the insect protection package an important first step, but more is needed. The next government must continue to improve habitats, for example through better biotope networking./sam/DP/he