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Environmental Collapse Under A Cocktail Of Chemicals?




by Tony Orman

Around Marlborough there’s some disturbing signs of an ailing environment.  Only a few years ago, I would frequently notice kingfishers sitting on fences and power lines. Today I see none.  In the garden, the native orange-backed lady birds that prey on aphids are now rarely seen.  While frequenting river and stream banks while trout fishing I no longer hear or see frogs. As a teenager in the 1950s, frogs croaked by every stream or marshy hollow and catching tadpoles was a major pursuit for youngsters. I recall evening starling flights of years ago. The spectacular whirling starling flights of yesteryear have gone, replaced by just a few individual birds. In trout rivers during the twilight,I recall dozens of juvenile eels in the shallows. Today they have gone. Evening mayfly hatches on the river are almost non-existent. There’s a world-wide decline in bee numbers including New Zealand. Last summer fishing the upper Wairau River, when in other years there was the chirping of bush robins and the song of cicadas, there was silence. In the high country when hunting, a kill of a deer or pig was the prelude to dozens of buzzing blow-flies. Now there are just one or two. Nearer home, moths in dozens no longer cluster around street lights or lighted house windows. There’s a big, big decline in insects banging into and being squashed on car windscreens in country areas. Are these apparent declines in numbers of wild creatures symptomatic of an ailing and declining ecosystem? Is poisoning the land a greater threat to the environment than global warming was the question recently posed by the UK’s “Guardian” noted columnist George Monbiot. Monibot, a 54 year old British writer and author well known for his “environmental and political activism” (Wikipedia) does not dismiss global warming. Indeed Monibot ranks it as vitally important but in 3rd place after commercial fishing and the impact of agrichemicals on the insect life of the planet. “It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impact that they push this even great predicament into third place. One is industrial fishing — now causing systemic collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land. The scale and speed of environmental collapse is beyond imagination,” added Monibot. Just a week ago, a report said a new scientific study has found “dramatic” and “alarming” declines in insect populations in areas in Germany, which university researchers say could have far-reaching consequences for the world’s crop production and natural ecosystems.

What of New Zealand?  Are we dowsing an environment with a unprecedented mixture of chemicals? Household effluent contains bleaches and detergents that did not exist forty years ago. Are we dumping upon the environment via urban waste-water systems and widespread spraying of the country-side with agri-chemicals and insecticides and pesticides, a “cocktail of chemicals” of unprecedented volume and variety? An indictment of the ignorant short-sighted lack of respect for the environment is that many urban areas still discharge sewage into waterways, either regularly or in high rainfall times. Wairarapa conservationist Bill Benfield and author of two startling books “The Third Wave” and “At War with Nature”, says understandably  farming practices have sought greater efficiencies and production.

“Greater use has been made of agrichemicals, including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Among the insecticides is the DDT substitute diazinon which is aerially sprayed on the land for grass grub. Although banned in the EU, its use is un-restricted in New Zealand.” Diazinon is “lethal to aquatic life.” In May 2012 dead mallard ducks were found on a Landcorp farm at Cape Foulwind, West Coast, after 1500 hectares were sprayed with diazinon. An autopsy found the ducks to be poisoned by the organophosphate.  Then there is 1080. “Ecosystem poisons, such as the metabolic poison 1080 are aerially dropped on wilderness public lands” says Bill Benfield. What’s the scientific verdict? Unfortunately the integrity of science has been undermined by a system of commissioned, paid science – in short money motivation he says.  Some scientists have spoken out. “The fury that descends on any scientist who steps out of line will ensure that their career and reputation will be in tatters. Few do,” says Bill Benfield. George Monbiot in his recent column, described how in the distorted funding of science there is no end of money for finding out how to kill insects, but almost none for finding out the consequences. 

In New Zealand, says Bill Benfield, eco-piety is expressed by riding a bicycle or driving hybrid cars, perhaps shopping at organic farmers markets yet the same people may campaign for even more chemical poisoning of “pests” and the fast disappearing invertebrates and bird life of the wilderness.  If Monbiot is correct, the cocktail of chemicals may also be in the long run, to the detriment of human survival. 

Tony Orman Orman is a Marlborough based free lance writer and advocate for conservation, i.e. “the wise use of resources.”


  1. With the environmental sciences so polluted with Left wing ideology, it’s hard to know whether there is a serious decline in insects or not.

    If there is, that does spell a problem. The problem for me is I simply don’t trust the (environmental) scientists involved. They’ve nailed their colours to the Leftard mast; it’s simply too difficult to ascertain whether their data collection is genuine or biased.



    • Wasps are a huge issue which impacts on other insect life and bird life because of food competition, but also there are insecticides that need t to be used to eradicate them, if possible.



  2. …..”there is no end of money for finding out how to kill insects, but almost none for finding out the consequences”…..

    And there lies the problem. If a doctor found a way to eliminate cancer but had the side effect of killing the patient he would be roundly condemned but agro-chemical companies don’t work under the same constraints.

    Part of the problem lies with the consumer. Mad housewives want cauliflowers with heads like curds of snow white clouds & a worm hole in a carrot would see them marching on the supermarket demanding redress. The grower responds with another bucketful of toxic sprays.

    If white butterfly caterpillars had cute round eyes like seal pups or bunnies things would be different!



  3. I had a proliferation of preying mantis in my garden this year but it is true not many lady birds. I tried to use a spray of marinated chilli water with dishwashing liquid and garlic but apart from being irritated the white butterfly and the infestation of whitefly wasn’t budged. The internet suggested plastic white butterflies attached to my veges would deter white butterfly from landing to lay their eggs in another’s territory? Alas, my intent is to have to spray all those hungry catapillars and sucking tiny whitefly, the aphids and all the other mingers who try to kill my plants.



  4. Chemicals?

    A group of natural things combined (often) in an unnatural way.

    Agree to an extent with a large part of the piece.

    I do, however, note that the drop off of moths and big, black flies in my area has coincided with an increase in swallows. Local cats have got our frogs.

    I still regularly see things like ladybugs, still have to wash the van of an evening due to squashed bloody insects.

    I certainly haven’t noticed a drop off in f@&$ing sandflies when I venture west of the Alps and only where wasps are bad do I detect a lessening of visible birds.

    “Chemicals” are generally produced to fix a problem.

    Once the random use of “chemicals” was a major problem but now, before being allowed to be used they are generally tested fairly thoroughly for adverse effects to man or environment, both from the general purpose they are designed for and side-effects, something Mr Ormond appears to ignore.

    In fact I suspect a very large percentage of the cost of developing “chemicals” is contained in this testing, making Mr Monibot’s “in the distorted funding of science there is no end of money for finding out how to kill insects, but almost none for finding out the consequences” yet another lie.

    I’m all for Mr Ormond raising and emphasising the point, a good one at that but his use of Monibot destroys the argument.



  5. Ormond doesn’t know what he is talking about.
    I have worked on the land using chemicals for 40 years.
    We have reached a point where the pesticides and fungicides we have available to us are very few and it is getting extremely difficult to produce those perfect cauliflower etc that nasska mentions.
    We used to use a number of organophosphates.It was mandatory to use 6 in a season for USA exports.Now we use none.There are beetles showing up that infest fruit now that are near impossible to control and there are traps for monitoring codling moth and leafroller flights.The chemicals we use now are very soft and this has been the way for quite a few years now.Many are to do with biological control.
    Every thing is toxic and it is a very emotive word to use.
    Insect life is fine around here and cicadas annoy the hell out of me in the season.There are heaps of lady birds but now there is a new one, a big one that is a bad version.
    I would say it is not the use of agricultural chemicals causing problems but a combination of human factors .
    Frogs have disappeared but where used to catch them in a creek in town it is polluted and dirty.



    • Fair comments wiseowl. Organophosphate use has largely been phased out & it was one of the bad ones. My own experience was in sheep/beef & worm resistance to drenches was a challenge. Culling poor breeding stock & a move to rotational grazing rather than set stocking had made an appreciable difference by the time I retired.

      Apparently frogs are nature’s ‘canary in the coal mine’ as they are susceptible to the slightest degree of water pollution. I had three dams on my property which I fenced off, planted the edges in natives & piped the water to troughs. They were a haven for birds & the only place I’ve heard or seen frogs in a long while.



  6. Uneasy at the suggestion 1080 is a factor along with the thought agricultural chemical use is causing issues.

    My reading indicates 1080 does not impact on insect life as it works on the Krebs cycle of a mammal. Agricultural chemicals, certainly in the last 10 years, are carefully controlled and production of market quality produce is an issue for growers as previously available products are off the market.

    Rats and mice are very prevalent unless controlled in any piece of New Zealand bush and will reduce insect populations along with bird life. My suspicion is Tony is noting the consequences of uncontrolled rat and mice populations along with stoats, weasels and hedgehogs.

    The few places where the problem species are controlled are noticeably different in a positive sense than those where they are not.



  7. Household effluent contains bleaches and detergents that did not exist forty years ago.
    Not a great change in these just a lot more being used. Most when they shouldn’t be. good old soap will do.
    Added into the cocktail though are things like birth control hormones. They stop ladies getting pregnant and who knows what else.

    High concentrations of cadmium are not good either and that comes from using super from one area of the world.



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