Following the Buglife campaign to ban sheep dipping with synthetic pyrethroids, on 22nd February 2006 the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) suspended the license to sell the Synthetic Pyrethroid (Cypermethrin) for sheep dipping on environmental grounds with immediate effect.
"Slopping highly toxic chemicals about the countryside is an outdated and outmoded practice. Pour-on and injectable alternatives cause much less environmental destruction. We hope that this ban becomes permanent and our rivers and meadows are allowed to recover" said Matt Shardlow, Conservation Director of Buglife.
The suspension of the licence to sell Cypermethrin by the VMD is by no means the end of the story. The manufacturers are now able to try to present a case that the practice is not causing significant environmental damage. This may be difficult as Defra Minister Ben Bradshaw admitted on 14 February 2006 that “It is widely known that synthetic pyrethroids can cause
Sheep grazing on Ridham Marsh © Roger Key
environmental problems if they are allowed to come into contact with watercourses. Recent reports from the Environment Agency of pollution incidents caused by the synthetic pyrethroid cypermethrin used in sheep dipping have included the loss of aquatic insects and other invertebrate species and possible resulting decline of the insect-feeding fish populations.”
The likelihood of pollution after dipping is dependant on thebehaviour of the sheep and the volume of rain over an unknown period of time after exposure. In December ADAS, the Government's own farming agency, was fined in a court of law after causing serious synthetic pyrethroid sheep dip damage to two rivers – if the best in the business cannot stop polluting who can? Expecting land managers to be able to prevent synthetic pyrethroid sheep dip pollution was unreasonable.
This is the first time that the relevant authorities have admitted that the environmental damage that is being caused by using synethetic pyrethroids in sheep dips may be unacceptable and unavoidable. The VMD deserve credit for taking this brave step in the face of considerable resistance to change.
Buglife will continue to work on this issue with our friends at the Salmon and Trout Trust and through our partners at Wildlife and Countryside Link to make the ban permanent.
More Synthetic Pyrethroid sheep dip information
- It is estimated that 1.5 billion aquatic invertebrates will be saved every year for as long as SP sheep dip is banned – excellent news if you are a fish or a bird!
- At least 26 million litres of cypermethrin sheep dip were used in 2005.
- Synthetic pyrethroids are 1000 times more toxic to wildlife than their predecessor chemicals..
- A few drops of SP dripping from a wet sheep into a stream will kill all the invertebrates for up to 10 kilometres downstream, with knock-on impacts for fish, the rest of the aquatic ecosystem and fishing businesses.
- Data from the Environment Agency and SEPA show that there has been a rapid increase in the number of recorded sheep dip water pollution incidents, from 12 in 2002 to 46 in 2004.
- Buglife estimates that at least 1,000 miles of rivers are ecologically destroyed by sheep dip pollution every year.
- The cypermethrin sheep dip, as well as generally damaging the environment, is also driving species towards extinction. In 2004 5,000 White-clawed crayfish (an internationally endangered species) were killed by sheep dip pollution in Cumbria's River Mint; and the very rare caddisfly Glossosoma intermedium, once found in three little rivers, is now only found in one, apparently as a result of poisoning by sheep dip.
- Every year over 400 million litres of sheep dip have to be thrown away. The second problem surrounds disposal, this is basically carried out by spraying the sheep dip onto fields. Cypermethrin is used as an agricultural pesticide and hence causes persistent damage to the populations of invertebrates in the ‘sacrificial’ fields. While the disposal of sheep dip must be licensed by the Environment Agency or SEPA, neither organisation has a duty to consider the impact on terrestrial wildlife when licensing disposal.
- “Sheep dip chemicals cause around one third of all freshwater Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) failures with between 39 to 70 failures in the period 2000 – 2003. Failures occur most frequently in areas of sheep rearing (Wales, Northumbria, Kent and in areas associated with the processing of fleeces (West Yorkshire). ” (EA data)
- Water Framework Directive risk assessment work estimates that around half of Wales is at risk of failing to meet the WFD objective of Good Ecological Status because of sheep dip. ” (EA data)
- Synthetic pyrethroid sheep dip is often mixed with slurry before it is ‘disposed of’ this may result in a bacteriological bloom and four times as many faecal coliform bacteria and pathogens being sprayed onto the agricultural land.
- For Buglife's original press release please click here.