Researchers have been awarded £6 million to investigate the effects of potentially hazardous chemicals, such as pesticides, on UK habitats and wildlife.

A workshop co-hosted by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), including representatives from Government, regulation and industry, concluded that vital research needs to be done to understand the impact of new chemicals and combinations.

With new chemicals constantly being used in agriculture, industry and everyday life, the research not only hopes to uncover unforeseen effects but also to devise new ways to test their impacts.

The current standard method of testing determines how toxic individual chemicals are but is unable to look at the combined effects of a mixture of chemicals.

NERC associate director of Research Ned Garnett said: “Healthy and productive terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems are vital to the economy and wellbeing of the UK.

“They play a key role in areas such as food production, providing clean water, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and supporting sustainable fish stocks, as well as supporting our wildlife.

This research will provide new evidence on how chemicals used in farming, industry and everyday life are impacting on these environments.

The grants were awarded to teams led by Prof. Andrew Johnson and Dr. David Spurgeon, both of the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Prof. Guy Woodward at Imperial College, London.

Prof. Andrew Johnson’s project aims to identify which wildlife populations are doing well despite current chemical use and which are not.

Hundreds of millions of data records have been gathered over the past 40 years; however, examination of them for response to chemicals has never been done before on this scale.

Pesticides research

Classic and temporal mixture synergism in terrestrial ecosystems: Prevalence, mechanisms and impacts; Dr. David Spurgeon’s project will investigate the mechanisms through which mixtures of pesticides and other chemicals affect terrestrial invertebrates.

The team will use a range of ecological, analytical, genetic and modelling methods to identify cases where a mixture of exposures results in greater effects than can be predicted by current widely-used models, the biological causes of such effects and their impact on invertebrate populations and communities.