Pesticide use by farmers could be reduced after a Southampton University study of the impact of the chemicals on farmland insects.
The Pounds 500,000 project, called Scarab, is being carried out by researchers at the university's biology department and will aim to determine the environmental consequences of reduced pesticide use. Current pesticide use on "non-target" species will be compared with that of a farming approach which uses less pesticide.
Researcher Geoff Frampton explained that non-target species such as ladybirds, ground beetles and money spiders are not pests but may be present in treated fields and suffer side effects from pesticide use. The list of non-target invertebrates also includes species important in the agricultural food chain and others that could be useful for indicating environmental quality.
The Southampton team is studying the impact of pesticides on more than 150 species present in crops such as barley, wheat, sugar beet and potatoes at several locations. The side effects of pesticides can vary considerably between different crops, soils and years.
Dr Frampton says that arable farmland contains an "incredibly diverse" fauna. Several hundred species of beetles and spiders can be present during the growing season of May, June and July.
Project results so far indicate that a handful of agrochemicals, especially those used in winter, are responsible for most of the adverse effects seen on non-target invertebrate populations. The study is being backed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.