The sight of bees buzzing around the flowers in our gardens and meadows, and crawling over petals with their legs covered in pollen, is one that has long defined the summer months. It is a sight, unfortunately, that is becoming increasingly rare.
All species of British bee are in decline. Since 1900 we’ve lost 13 species. A further 35 are currently facing the threat of extinction. As 87 of the 115 most important food crops in the world require pollination for the production of fruits, nuts and seeds, and as bees are responsible for approximately 80% of this pollination, this is a potentially devastating situation.
Without the help of bees, it would cost UK farmers approximately £1.8 billion to pollinate their crops. This would have a knock on effect, increasing food prices and, therefore, affecting world economies as people are forced to spend a larger percentage of their income on feeding their families.
What is causing the decline?
There are thought to be a number of factors in the bees’ plight. The loss of habitat due to increasing agriculture is a major issue. Since the 1930s the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows. Air pollution is also thought to be a problem, as it causes the deterioration of the plant-emitted scents that bees require to locate pollen, and global warming is also making flowers bloom earlier, before the bees have emerged. The compounding factor, however, is the use of a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids or neonics.
Neonics are highly toxic in small quantities to many invertebrates, including bees. As a systemic pesticide, it is absorbed into every part of a plant – roots, stem, leaves and flowers. When a bee feeds on pollen or nectar from such a plant, pollen or nectar that contains neonics, damage is caused to its nervous system and motor functions. This affects the bee’s ability to feed, navigate, forage and reproduce.
Unfortunately neonics are not simply affecting the plants they were intended for, but also neighbouring vegetation. Wildflowers and hedgerows around treated crops have been found containing high levels of the pesticide. It also contaminates the soil around a treated crop. A single application has been found to leave a residue for months or years. This residue is then absorbed into plants grown in the tainted soil. In October 2017 it was reported that 75% of tested honey contains traces of neonics. These are amounts that are below the safe level for human consumption. Their effect on the bees, however are another matter entirely.
What can be done?
The Friends of the Earth launched the Bee Cause in 2012.
The Bee Cause is dedicated to the banning of neonicotinoids, and to the creation of more bee friendly habitats across the country.
Three types of neonics were banned in the UK under EU law, but with Brexit causing a rewrting of many such policies, the Friends of the Earth are asking people to contact the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove and their local MPs, asking them to back the ban.
Contact the Environmental Secretary, Michael Gove, asking him to commit the UK to a permanent and comprehensive neonics ban.