Farming News - Campaigners urge government to support bees over new pesticide findings

Campaigners urge government to support bees over new pesticide findings

11 Apr 2012
Frontdesk / Machinery

Following new research into bee deaths published in the latest edition of journal Science, environment group Friends of the Earth has launched a campaign to halt the decline in bee populations, which stands to have a devastating effect over coming years.


decline of the bees

Although bees have been described as facing "death from a thousand cuts," as loss of wildflower-rich meadow habitat and dangers posed by disease and parasites impact upon bee populations around the world, one of the principal factors in their decline is thought to be the use of certain pesticides, which kill bees outright or leave them vulnerable to secondary threats. Numerous studies have linked bee deaths with the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in recent years.  


After two studies published in Science in March linked neonicotinoid pesticides with bee losses and reductions in the production of queens in bee colonies, another study at the beginning of the month implicated the controversial pesticides in Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon wherein workers bees abruptly disappear from a hive or colony.


Following the release of these studies, Friends of the Earth commissioned its own research from Reading University, which revealed that the loss of bee populations would cost the UK £1.8 billion every year. The figure, 20 per cent higher than had previously been speculated, was reached by examining ‘ecosystem services’ provided by bees; these are services which bring financial or cultural gain to an industry or group of people and which natural systems provide for free, including pollinating crops. As well as the added cost of hand-pollinating crops, the researchers said the loss of bee activity would result in rises in the cost of food.


Alarming figures lead to calls for government action


According to Friends of the Earth, nearly half of Britain’s bee populations in managed hives have been lost since 1985 and wild honey bees are almost extinct. Bee populations are plummeting around the world, with some populations of bumblebee having been lost already.


The loss of bee populations from entire regions, and the devastating impact this can have, has already been recorded; fruit growers in Hanyuan County, China have been forced to resort to hand-pollination after native bee populations were eradicated by loss of habitat and the effects of industrial farming practices.


On the back of its new research, Friends of the Earth has called on the prime minister to commit to a ‘bee action plan’ which would introduce considerations for bee populations into town planning and pesticide regulation and set aside money to fund nature experts to oversee efforts to restore bee populations.


Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth said, "Unless we halt the decline in British bees our farmers will have to rely on hand-pollination, sending food prices rocketing. Bees are responsible for most of our favourite fruit and vegetables so as well as the huge blow to our economy, our diet would also suffer."


Commenting on the ‘ecosystem services’ provided by bees and on the results of two studies published last month in Science which reveal the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee populations, Mr de Zylva said, '"Bees are crucial for pollinating our food crops and are a cherished icon of our countryside and gardens - we can't afford to see their continuing decline. Ministers must urgently look at this new research to see if farmers should be allowed to carry on spraying this pesticide in Britain."


The organisation is also raising awareness of the issue amongst the general public, having created a temporary wildflower meadow in Central London. It is also offering information on how members of the public can engage in bee-friendly growing to support the hard-hit insects.


In response to the growing concern and weight of evidence suggesting the phenomenon of bee decline requires further examination, a Defra spokesperson said, "The UK has a robust system for assessing risks from pesticides. We keep all the science under review and we will not hesitate to act if we need to."


The agchem industry has also sought to contest the recently published studies. Chemical giant Bayer claimed a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health is "inaccurate and seriously flawed." Harvard researchers discovered a strong link between the use of neonicotinoid imidacloprid, which is principally manufactured by Bayer CropSciences, and Colony Collapse Disorder.