December 11 2013 Latest news:
Monday, August 12, 2013
Experts have warned that bee populations are in crisis. As campaigners call for more to be done, this week the EDP asks why these much-loved insects are suffering, if it is important and asks how we can get involved.
Honey bee colony losses over the latest winter were the worst since its survival survey began, according to the British Beekeepers Association.
The poll found that in this region 30pc of honeybee colonies were lost – a 10pc rise on the previous year.
Meanwhile Friends of the Earth claim wild honey bees are nearly extinct and solitary bees are declining in more than half the areas they’ve been studied, with some species of bumblebee lost altogether.
Despite the many column inches devoted to the issue, a controversial ban on a pesticide which is set to kick in at the end of this year and hours of debate by environmentalists, scientists and politicians, there is not a sense that an easy fix has been found.
The government recently announced it would carry out a review into the issue – a move welcomed by the charity Friends of the Earth.
The campaign group’s executive director, Andy Atkins, said an “urgent and comprehensive” route map and timetable were needed and a plan of action must be in place when bees emerge from hibernation next spring.
“We can’t afford to gamble any longer with our food, countryside and economy,” he said.
Lord de Mauley, the government minister responsible for bees, told the EDP he believed it was a combination of factors contributing to picture.
He said the three summers before this one were “rotten” which had conspired against the pollinators and he also blamed farming practices over the last 50 years for contributing to habitat loss.
“But the most specific thing is pests and diseases – particularly, but not only, the varroa mite,” he added.
He said: “We have to do what we can to tackle those things. Clearly there is not much we can do about the weather.
“But we can perhaps compensate through the Common Agriculture Policy to deal with habitat loss through farming practices, and also there is quite a lot we can do about pests and diseases.”
In April the European parliament controversially imposed a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, claiming the chemicals were having an impact on bee populations.
While there were many who supported the ban, including Friends of the Earth, it was a move the British government and National Farmers Union opposed.
NFU lead on bee health, Chris Hartfield, said the European Commission’s decision to ban three widely used neonicotinoids was likely to have significant impacts for food production and “unintended consequences” for the environment, without delivering any measurable benefits for bee health.
He said: “It is right that we take steps to protect bees – they are vital pollinators, but any action needs to be proportionate to the problem. Crucially, we have to be confident that when we make changes, these changes will actually deliver benefits.
“At the moment, there is no evidence to show that there are any harmful effects of neonicotinoids on bees under field conditions.
“If we cannot find evidence of harm in the field, then it follows that we will not be able to measure any benefits of a ban either.”
Lord de Mauley added: “Don’t get me wrong, pesticides are designed to kill insects, so we have to look at that seriously.
“But the scientific evidence does not show that neonics were causing unacceptably harmful effects on bees. But the answer to that is not just to sulk in the corner – we have got to go and help the farmers and make sure, for instance, what they don’t do is revert to much more harmful pesticides to replace neonics. We also need to continue to do some really useful scientific research into these pesticides.”
But he also urged everybody to get engaged with the issue.
“I think to involve people in this sort of work would be extremely useful,” he said. “There is a facility set up in York to look at the bodies of bees people find. If people find dead bees it is quite helpful if they are sent in, for instance.”
And he suggested that people researched which were the best sort of plants for bees.
He said: “Wild flora and fauna is something I know people are interested in and want to help. I think we should encourage people to do this.”
He also urged beekeepers to signed up to the government’s Bee Base database and information service.
“It would be good if more bee keepers could sign up and be part of it. That is the way we can disseminate training. It is very easy to do. Ignorance does cause colony loss. A whole hive can die out and that is something we must help people to avoid.
“It can be some kind of pest, or the fact you have forgotten to feed them because the winter was so bad. You need to feed your bees and look after them, but it perhaps doesn’t come naturally to people unless they take advantage of the training.”
So why is all this work important?
Lord de Mauley added: “We take it particularly seriously because pollinators generally are hugely important to our crops. They contribute hundreds of millions of pounds worth of pollination services.”
He added: “I think the international message is bees and pollinators matter hugely and let’s work together to promote their health, attack pests and diseases and get the best for them and from them in terms of their pollinating services that they provide for all our crops.”
Click here to learn more about bees in our Bee Week section