Friday, 26 July 2013

We Need Action - not Words!


It frustrates me enormously that we are only recently reading the *breaking news* that artificially bred bumblebees are being imported to the UK - and that they are carrying diseases that are endangering our native bumblebees when the artificially bred bees escape into the wild.

This is NOT breaking news, it has been going on for YEARS but the media have not been interested!!! All of a sudden, now that 'bee decline' is worrying people from a human crop pollination view point, everyone seems to be reporting on this situation. Although they very rarely tell the whole story.

Of course it is in many ways a wonderful thing that this is finally being reported in the media because more people will sit up and take notice....but it's no good closing the stable door after the horse has already bolted. News like this needs to be disseminated much earlier if it is to make a difference to the bumblebees that are being bred and used for the purpose of pollinating our mono crops of tomatoes etc....and to the native bees that are, in turn, being exposed to the diseases that are already rife in artificially reared colonies.

I notice that most of the reports don't mention the fact that these beautiful, hard working little creatures are often reared on pollen and nectar substitutes and are artificially overwintered by exposing them to carbon dioxide. Worst of all, when they have finished doing the job of pollinating the tomatoes, they are not allowed to be released into the wild, or returned to Eastern Europe where they were bred, so they are DROWNED or FROZEN to death.

Breeding bumblebees artificially to pollinate our mono crops is, to me, abhorrent on every level. It reminds me of the battery chicken industry.

I'm also stunned that it is considered 'news' that cocktails of pesticides are contributing to bee decline.  Of course they are contributing to bee decline!!! This, also, has been known for decades. I remember reading research published many years ago telling us that dead bees have been found to contain up to 27 different pesticides in their poor little bodies. this is not rocket science and it didn't need millions of ££££s or $$$$s to be spent to tell us what we already know. This money would have been far better spent supporting farmers to switch to organic methods of farming when growing their crops.

Rachel Carson highlighted the problems that pesticides were causing for wildlife back in the sixties in her book 'Silent Spring', which is sadly as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

What is wrong with the media, our government and the population in general, that we wait till things are so dire that our pollinators are in danger of becoming extinct before we even begin to discuss what we should do about the situation?!  I have had conversations with people recently who tell me they have read recently about bee decline, and that it all sounds very awful, but that they can't stop using pesticides because their roses would suffer and they couldn't possibly leave their lawns to grow longer to allow the clovers, vetches and self-heals to flower because it would look untidy. I can only conclude that these people are suffering from some kind of collective madness.

Apologies for the rant, but seriously, what is it going to take for people, organisations and governments to take this issue seriously enough to actually DO something about it instead of just talk about it? I'm delighted that it IS finally being reported in the media and that so many organisations (including many environmental and wildlife NGO's) that have ignored the issue of pesticides & bee decline till recently are finally speaking up, but we need ACTION to be taken immediately otherwise it will be too late.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

First and foremost we must all plant more pollen and nectar rich flowers. All the advice you need to create a pollinator garden can be found on this website

Please sign  THIS PETITION CALLING FOR A BAN ON IMPORTED BUMBLEBEES

If you are someone who uses insecticides, herbicides or fungicides on your garden, please look for alternatives. There are plenty out there and they are not difficult to find. All you need to do is search on google for 'Natural alternatives to pesticides'

Thank you for all that you do!

Brigit x

*Breaking news* about imported bumblebees - report in Telegraph 

*Breaking news* about cocktails of pesticides contributing to bee decline 

Taking Bees for Granted Interesting article

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Speaking up for wildlife


In case anyone has't noticed, there are fewer bees around this year than ever before. There are also noticeably fewer butterflies, moths, ladybirds, hover flies and insects of any other kind for that matter. To say that this is worrying would be a bit of an understatement.


Bees, beetles, earthworms and myriad other invertebrates provide us with the foundation upon which all life on earth depends, yet, apart from bees (which are fortunate enough to have had their commercial value as human crop pollinators recognised and touted in the press as a good reason to try and save them) these miniscule and mostly microscopic creatures are pretty much ignored. Worse than that, most of us grow up feeling scared, repulsed and/or threatened by these amazing creatures.

Our garden centres sell huge ranges of products suitable to kill any species of bug that dares to compete with us for food, or habitat. These highly toxic pesticides compete for shelf space in garden centres and DIY stores and supermarkets with an ever increasing array of herbicides designed to help us get rid of any stray wild plant that might try to creep in and live amongst the bedding plants and exotic shrubs in our pristine flower boarders.

Have we perhaps been afflicted with some kind of madness? Surely it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that life on Earth cannot be sustained if we continue to systematically wipe out the plants and animals that the planet's food chains and eco-systems depend upon for their very existence? If you were a visitor from another planet you might be forgiven for thinking the human race had declared war on anything with six or more legs....never mind the wild plants they used to thrive on!

In the 'State of Nature' report published earlier this month it was reported that around two thirds of our native flora and fauna is in decline. This is a shocking statistic by anyone's standards and cannot be ignored. We need to act urgently to halt the decline of bees and other invertebrates if we are to avoid their mass extinction....and the longer we wait, the more likely it is that the situation will spiral out of control. 

I am very fortunate to have recently become caretaker of a few acres of land which I am in the process of turning into a haven for bees and other wildlife. However, the home I have just moved from only has a tiny little patio, so I am able to say from first hand experience that you don't need lots of land or space to be able to do an enormous amount to help. Even if you only have a window box, you can still make a choice between planting it up with bedding plants like begonias (which are no good to man nor bee) or filling it to the brim with pollen and nectar rich flowers such as mediterranean herbs which will provide a much needed feast for pollinators and take a lot less attention and watering than begonias!

As well as creating as much wildlife friendly habitat as possible in your own back garden, there are also other ways that we can all help make a difference. Here are a few......

1. Stop using pesticides. It can take a couple of years for a garden or allotment to find its balance again after having been treated with insecticides and herbicides, but it's well worth the effort.

2. Become a Wildlife Recorder! If we don't know it's there in the first place we can't possibly know if it's in decline. Check out sites like Garden Bioblitz and iSpot and let them know what you have in your garden....there are plenty of experts on hand to help you identify plants and animals you don't recognise if you take a photograph.

3. Support growers and producers who use natural and organic methods on their land. Ask questions about how things have been grown and don't be fobbed off with vague 'not sures' or 'don't knows'.

4. Write to your local authority and ask about their policies for creating wildlife friendly habitat on amenity spaces and local verges. If they don't have one, or tell you it's not cost effective to allow the grass to grow longer or to create wildflower verges, point them towards the amazing 'Life on the Verge'  project in Lincolnshire.

5. listen to this incredibly powerful and very moving speech from Lolo Williams http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnJQjtvngqA

6. Check out the fabulous information about the importance of composting from Sarah Blenkinsop' site The Compost Bin

7. Last, but not least, get out in your garden or go for a walk in a local park, woodland, or any other place that is not covered in concrete and get to know the plants and animals you share this wonderful planet with. 

Some more useful links.....

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A wee rant about the way we are farming the life out of Planet Earth

The Almond Orchards of California

Intensive agriculture has brought us to the brink. It it completely unsustainable in every sense of the word and it is certainly NOT feeding the world. We have travelled too far down the wrong road and it is now time to do a u-turn. We need a complete and urgent re-think about global agricultural practices if we are to avert food shortages.

Sadly, what many perceive as lush green countryside in the UK (and to a far greater degree in the US) is more likely to be fields of mono crops, treated with cocktails of fungicides and systemic insecticides, planted over thousands of acres of land treated with herbicides, and leaving little if any space for wildflowers and their pollinators to flourish.....even if they could in such a toxic environment!

Added to this, in the US, is the fact that many native wild pollinators have been outcompeted by the introduction of the honeybee 400 years ago. Some kind of healthy balance might perhaps have been achieved and maintained between native bees and Apis mellifera if it hadn't been for the rise of the mega commercial beekeepers who now truck millions of hives of exhausted, stressed honeybees over thousands of miles to pollinate the almond orchards and other cash crops. However, as the emphasis and focus has all been on the 'economy' and 'pollinator services' rather than 'ecology' there is now very little balance.


There are now some 870,000 of acres of California that are entirely covered in almond trees, without so much as a blade of grass growing beneath them let alone a wild flower because - heaven forbid - that might tempt the bees away from the almond blossoms they are supposed to be 'working'...and that would never do!

Ignoring for one moment the biodiversity desert that this demand for almond oil has created in California, it is also completely abhorrent to me that the honeybee, or any other living creature should be treated in such a way just to satisfy human greed.

Animals deserve to be treated in the same way as we would like to be treated ourselves. As do trees, plants, water and soil. These are all equally precious co-inhabitants of planet Earth and we should be honouring and respecting them instead of controlling, managing, poisoning and enslaving them the way we do. And yes, I include water and soil when I say this because they, too, used to be full of life before modern agriculture poisoned them with its chemicals.

Our 'modern' way of growing food simply does not work. The only people benefitting from it are the shareholders of the multinational agri-chem corporations. Not us....not the farmers....and certainly not the people all over the world who are starving whilst cash crops of cotton, wheat, biofuels, maize, palm oil etc are being grown on the land beside their villages where they used to grow food to eat.

What is needed is for the food distribution system to change - and for people all over the world to be able to grow food crops for themselves to eat....rather than using their land AND THEIR WATER to grow cash cops for rich nations.

I am well aware that the solutions are far more complex than I am able to write about in a short blog post, but I believe with every cell of my being that small scale, non intensive farming....using integrated pest management, crop rotation, permaculture principles and organic methods CAN feed the world. We are far too quick to buy into the scaremongering propaganda put about by the multinationals telling us that we must grow genetically modified crops to feed the world. This simply is not true. Adding genetically modified plants into the mix is no more a solution to world hunger than manufacturing robotic bees would be to the pollinator crisis. 

......and don't get me started on palm oil, Bt cotton, seed sovereignty and biopiracy!!!

Rant over.






Thursday, 18 April 2013

What, exactly, ARE neonicotinoid pesticides?

Neonicotinoids are a group of insecticides that include 'imidacloprid', 'clothianidin', 'thiamethoxam', 'thiacloprid' and 'fipronil'. They are neurotoxins (nerve poisons) that have been designed to attack the insect's central nervous system; causing paralysis and eventually death. Their target insects include vine weevils, aphids, whitefly, colorado potato beetle, termites and other sap sucking insects.  As well as causing paralysis and death, neonicotinoids also produce other chronic and sub-lethal symptoms, (both in target and non target insects) such as interfering with the insect's navigation systems and, crucially, impairing their ability to groom themselves

Neonicotinoids were introduced in the early nineties and are now the world's most widely used group of pesticides. They are used prophylactically instead of reactively, which is a little like us taking antibiotics throughout the year just in case we are exposed to someone with a chest infection in December.

They are water soluble and remain in the soil for many years. Their high persistency in soil and water results in a sustained exposure to these pesticides, not only to bees, but to other non-target organisms and pollinators, including aquatic invertebrates, moths, butterflies and hoverflies and (indirectly) bats, amphibians and insect eating birds.  


"Neonicotinoid insecticides act by causing virtually irreversible blockage of postsynaptic nicotinergic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) in the central nervous system of insects. The damage is cumulative, and with every exposure more receptors are blocked. In fact, there may not be a safe level of exposure." Dutch toxicologist, Henk Tennekes.


Which crops are treated with neonicotinoids?

Neonicotinoids are used as seed treatments or soil treatments on over 140 different crops including soy, corn, wheat, cotton, legumes, potatoes, sugar-beet, sunflowers, rapeseed and flax. Until last year, they were used on the 740,000 acres of Californian Almond Trees. One third of all arable land in the UK now grows crops treated with neonicotinoids.

Less well known is the fact that 'Fipronil' (also a neonicotinoid), is used in flea treatments for dogs and cats.

How do neonicotinoids differ from other pesticides?


Until the introduction of insecticides such as neonicotinoids we were able to see pesticides with our own eyes as they were being sprayed onto our crops. Neonicotinoids, and some other groups of modern pesticides, work in a very different way. They are applied as seed dressings or soil treatments, appearing invisible so that many people, including some farmers, are unaware that they are even using them. Instead of being used reactively (i.e. after a problem has been identified) they are used 'prophylactically' which means crops are treated as a matter of course to safeguard them against the possibility of an attack by the pesticide's target insect. This is like human beings taking antibiotics all year round to protect us from the possibility of succumbing to a sore throat or flu.

The biggest difference between neonicotinoids and all other pesticides is that neonicotinoids work  'systemically'.  This means that once the seed (or the soil in which the seed has been planted) has been coated/treated with the insecticide, that insecticide is then taken up through the entire plant via it's vascular system.  So, it ends up in the plant's roots, stem, leaves, flowers, fruit, sap (guttation), pollen and nectar.....and it - does - not - wash - off.

We are told by DEFRA that this is ok. It is, apparently, 'safe' for bees and other pollinators to forage on crops whose seeds have been treated with neonicotinoids because they only ingest the pesticide in sub-lethal doses i.e. 'doses not large enough to cause death'. This might be ok if each bee only visited one plant and took one dose of 'sub-lethal' pollen in it's life time - but this, of course, is not the case.


Interestingly, when neonicotinoids were licensed for use and passed as 'safe for bees', this was done without them ever being tested for sub-lethal or chronic effects on bees.

Why I have written this particular blog post: 

More and more people are now taking the time to write to supermarkets, DIY stores and garden centres to ask them to remove products that contain neonicotinoid pesticides from their shelves - and some are personally speaking to the managers in their local stores. However many are still not 100% sure exactly what neonicotinoids are or how they harm bees and other invertebrates.

It's good to be furnished with some facts when you speak to people who can influence policies, so I have written this short blog post to explain what they are

I'm sure there are better explanations out there, but in case you can't find one do please feel free to use this. It would great if you could also share this on twitter, facebook, forums and any other social networks you use.....the more people who understand what we're 
dealing with the better!

Please keep writing to your MPs asking them to pressurise our Secretary for the Environment, Mr Owen Paterson, to support the EC's proposed partial ban on neonicotinoids. You can use the wording on the Buglife website  HERE  to help you write your letter/email.

Please also ask your local supermarkets, DIY stores and garden centres to remove products containing these insecticides form their shelves. Especially Provado Ultimate Big Killer which, ironically and outrageously is currently being offered with 'free seeds for bees'!!!






Wednesday, 27 March 2013

WHICH BEES 'STING' AND WHICH DON'T?


A great many people are wary of bees because they fear being stung, but the truth is that bees are far more interested in going about their business foraging for pollen and nectar than they are in stinging human beings. Only in rare cases will a bee sting without being seriously provoked - and many species of bee don't sting at all.



Honeybees

Honeybees are equipped with a sting which they will use to defend their honey stores or their queen. They will also, of course, attempt to use their sting if they think you are threatening their lives by standing or sitting on them. 

The sting of a Honeybee (worker) is barbed, so it remains under your skin after it has pierced you. When the bee attempts to fly off her intestines are pulled out, so unless you can remove the sting without damaging it she will die. Honeybee Queens can sting repeatedly, but as they spend almost their entire lives inside the hive, the odds that you will encounter one are fairly remote.  

It is worth noting that honeybee colonies have somewhat variable temperaments, from extremely docile to quite tetchy. This is down to genetics: certain crosses can be hard to handle, even by experienced beekeepers. The good news is that honeybees almost never sting anyone who is not close to their nest/hive, so don't worry about being stung whilst gardening or walking through a field.

You are less likely to be stung whilst honeybees are swarming than at any other time. 

Male honeybees have no sting

N.B If you have reason to think you may be allergic to bee venom, you should carry an Epipen



Bumblebees

Bumblebee are not naturally aggressive and it takes a lot to provoke them. They will only sting if their nest is threatened or if you squeeze them, sit on them, or stand on them. 



Buff tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) posturing
If they do feel threatened by you they will 'tell' you. They do this by raising one of their middle legs in the air. When you back away they relax and put their leg back down again - but if you go closer (and if they are unhappy about this) they will lift another leg in the air. If you go closer still - they will lift two legs up vertically in the air and turn onto their back to show you their sting! This is called 'posturing' but very rarely leads to them actually stinging you.  If bumblebees DO ever sting, their sting has no barb like the honeybee, so they do not die afterwards.

Male bumblebees do not have a sting.  

You can identify the males of some species quite easily by their pale yellow facial hair and little yellow moustaches. Also, male bumblebees are in less hurry than the females when foraging and have thin hairy legs (females have a wide shiny, smooth, flattened corbicula on their back legs and are often carrying pollen)
I often stroke bumblebees (male and female) in my garden, or pick them up from pavements and roads to put them in safer places. None of these bees have ever stung me.



Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)
I should just add that there is one species of bumblebee, the Tree Bee Bombus hypnorum  who has a reputation for being  a little aggressive. As with any other bee, they will completely ignore you whilst they are out foraging, but this particular species is slightly more defensive in the vicinity of her nest than other bumblebee.







Leafcutter (Megachile centuncularis)

Solitary bees

There are over 230 species of solitary bee in the UK and it is VERY rare for anyone to be stung by one of these bees. As solitary bees have no honey stores to protect, there is no reason for nature to have provided them with a good defence weapon like the honeybee. The females are equipped with tiny stings but rarely, if ever, do they use them. You would have to squash them to provoke them to sting - and even then, the sting on most of these bees is so insignificant that it cannot pierce human skin.


There are just one or two exceptions. Although the effect is not as severe as a honeybee sting, our tiniest species of ground nesting solitary bee, Lasioglossum and Halictus, both have fully functioning stings capable of penetrating human skin. 

None of the male solitary bees have stings.

N.B. If you have reason to think you may be seriously allergic to bee venom, you should carry an Epipen.

If you are not allergic (the majority of us are not) but you DO get stung by a bee, look for some plantain - chew it up a bit at the front of your mouth - and then spit the chewed up leaf and saliva on the sting.






Many thanks to Natural Beekeeper, Phil Chandler, of Biobees for his input on honeybees


Thursday, 7 March 2013

Spring Bumblebees


This is such  an exciting time of year! The signs and sounds that herald the arrival of spring are all around us. Winter bulbs are beginning to flower, buds are tentatively coming into leaf and the birds are singing their little hearts out. The anticipation of warmer days to come is almost tangible. 

Nothing excites me more though, than seeing my first queen bumblebee of the year.  Although there are one or two species (most notably Bombus terrestris) that occasionally continue to raise broods over the winter, for the most part our 26 species of UK bumblebees have been hibernating deep beneath the soil since last Autumn.
  
With bumblebees, it is only the (already fertilized) queens produced towards the end of the colony's lifecycle that hibernate beneath the ground and survive the winter. Apart from the odd overwintering B. terrestris colony, last year's males, and all the female workers, will have died out long before winter set in.  So, if you see an ENORMOUS bumblebee on the wing at this time of year, she will be one of the new queens that have just emerged from hibernation. 

First bumblebees to emerge

The first bees to emerge from hibernation are usually Bombus terrestris (commonly known as the buff tailed bumblebee) followed closely by the much smaller B. Pratorum (early nesting bumblebee), B. hypnorum (tree bumblebee) and B. lucorum (white tailed bumblebee)

The newly emerged queen will forage for nectar to build up her strength after her long winter's sleep... and for pollen to develop her ovaries.  Hopefully she will have chosen a hibernation site near an area with a plentiful supply of winter flowering heathers, gorse (right), crocus, dead nettles and pussy willow. However, if the sun has tricked her into emerging too early and there is nothing for her to feed upon she will starve. So these and other early flowering plants are literally life savers for our early rising pollinators. Other early spring favourites include hellebores, white dead nettle, snowdrops, green alkonet and lungwort.

Prospecting for a nest

Once she has replenished herself with nectar and pollen, the queen bumblebee's behaviour changes. She now begins to fly in a zigzag pattern, just above to the ground (especially where there are piles of dead leaves and rotten wood) as she prospects for a suitable site to build her nest. A bumblebee's preferred choice for a nest would be a vacated mouse, shrew or vole nest....but with the demise of our hedgerows and woodland edges, these are becoming harder and harder to find. Other preferences (depending on the species) include tussoky grass, compost heaps, crevices beneath stone walls and bird boxes. Those that are fortunate enough to find a suitable nest must be prepared to defend it from other bumblebees, as competition for suitable nesting sites is high. 

I don't know for sure, but I imagine that one of the contributing factors to the success of B. terrestris whilst many other species are in decline, could be that it steals a few weeks on other species in the 'nest hunting' race - thereby managing to establish its colony before some of the later species begin to emerge. I should add here that the main reason B. terrestris is one of our more common species is that, together with the others known as the 'big eight', she is a 'generalist' rather than a 'specialist' when it comes to foraging. This means she is not a fussy eater, so doesn't rely on just a few types of flower, or habitats, for her survival.



Establishing a colony

So, let us assume that our overwintering bumblebee has successfully found a plentiful supply of pollen and nectar rich flowers, stumbled upon a vacant small rodent's nest (or something else reasonably suitable such as a compost heap, a dry warm hole underneath a garden shed or the pocket of an old coat) and managed to avoid the myriad not-so-mutually-beneficial parasites that often 'do for her' before she can arrive at this stage. She is now ready to establish her colony. This stage will have been reached, depending on the species of bumblebee, at any time between early spring and early summer. 

You will know when a queen bumblebee has reached this next stage, because her behaviour will change again. Instead of zigzagging across the ground she will now begin to fly backwards and forwards from her nest with great purpose... and the pollen baskets (corbicular) on her her hind legs will be absolutely laden with pollen. This suggests she has established her nest.

Inside her nest, the queen will have fashioned a little wax pot - around the size of a small fingernail - which she will have filled with nectar to feed herself so she can keep up her energy levels should she have to remain in the nest during inclement weather. She will have removed any debris from the site and waterproofed it to the best of her ability. Then, once the nest is ready, she will mix together some pollen, nectar and saliva to form a little ball into which she lays half a dozen or so eggs. From now until the time her first brood of workers emerge, her time will be divided between 'brooding' and nipping out to forage.

                                    Pollen laden b. terrestris worker on buddleia last summer

Brooding

Bumblebees 'brood' much like birds, in that they sit on their eggs and keep the temperature at around 30°C . They do this by disconnecting the flight muscles inside their thorax and shivering their muscles.

Unlike birds, however, bumblebees are single parents, so they need to keep their foraging trips short and sharp in order that the temperature in the nest doesn't drop too much. Once she has laid her first batch of eggs the bumblebee queen will always face the entrance of the nest so she is ready to ward off any unwelcome intruders. Her little nectar pot will be close enough so she can easily dip her proboscis (tongue) into it, to sup the nectar she has previously collected, whilst she is brooding. 


After the eggs hatch (a couple of days after they have been laid) the developing larvae feed upon the pollen provisions and go through various growth stages before spinning cocoons around themselves and pupating. After two weeks in their cocoons they will emerge as fully grown adult bees. The first few broods are alway female 'worker' bees. They are usually much smaller than the queen and will take on the roles of nurse maids, cleaners, guards and foragers.

From this time onwards the queen bumblebee is unlikely to leave the nest.


                      
Just a quick note before I sign off about the impact that 'habitat loss' is having upon bumblebees and other pollinators.... 


Over the last seventy years we have lost 98% of our once rich and diverse grasslands and wildflowers, as well as small woodlands and hedgerows. This has caused greater knock-on effects than many people realise


Knock-on effect for bees

The disappearance of these wonderful habitats has drastically reduced the diversity of flowers that used to provide such an excellent source of pollen and nectar for some of our now rarer bees. It has also resulted in loss of habitat for many of our small mammals. Fewer small mammals obviously means fewer small mammal burrows... which in turn leads to fewer suitable nesting sites for bumblebees. From a human-centric point of view, the decline in the bumblebee population impacts very seriously on our food supply. Not only are bumblebees the main pollinators our legume crops, but they are also the only insects that are able to pollinate crops such as tomatoes, aubergines and blueberries.  

We would do well to spend a little time thinking about the knock-on effects and consequences of our actions before we tamper with Mother nature!   


Anyway, that's enough for now; I've jumped way ahead of myself considering it's so early in the season - and it is bot my intention to write a blog about the complete life cycle of the bumblebee.

I'll write more as, and when, this year's nests become established, but if you can't wait and want to know more now, there are links below to two wonderful sites containing loads of information about all things 'bumble'......

Have a beautiful sunshine filled day and thank you for reading this blog post.

B xx

P.S.....I do talks about bees and am taking bookings for 2016 and 2017 so I can continue raising awareness of the importance of these incredible creatures, the reasons for their decline and what we can all do to help.

Please look at my talks page for more details http://www.beestrawbridge.blogspot.co.uk/p/talks.html 

For more information about bumblebees please have a look at the following sites...






Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Why is Bee Decline Not an International Emergency?

I'm beginning to wonder just what in the world bees need to do to grab the attention of the media and the general public the way other issues grab them? 

Within the next month or so (date to be confirmed), EU member states will vote, again, on the European Commission's proposal to restrict the use of three of the most widely used neonicotinoid insecticides on certain flowering crops throughout Europe. The results of this vote are of ENORMOUS consequence. We're talking here about nothing short of mass extinction if our already depleted pollinator population is not protected from continuing poisoning by these, and other insecticides. It's not as if we haven't already pushed them to the brink by destroying, degrading and fragmenting their habitat. 

Before the last vote took place on March 15th, a number of member states raised objections to certain aspects of the EC's proposal, but the UK, alone, rejected the entire proposal. On the day, the UK 'abstained'. The voting system requires that there need to be more votes in support of the proposal than those against and those abstaining added together...so in this case the UK's abstention was as good as voting 'against' the proposal. Because there was not an overall majority either way the proposal will be voted on again at the end of April or in early May.

The UK government are quite clearly doing everything they can to block this partial ban.  

You'd have thought the unprecedented decline of the creatures responsible for pollinating a third of the world's food - not to mention over 80% of all the flowering plants on this planet - might prompt concern; that it might justify a mention on the six o'clock news, or an appearance on the front page of the national newspapers. You might also have thought the media would have something to say about our government's dangerous stance on this issue.....

But no. This issue is barely ever discussed in the media so the majority of the population remain completely oblivious of the fact there even IS a problem. I believe people would be outraged if they were to understand exactly how serious bee decline has become - but the fact it's not making headline news means we are not party to the information that might make us think twice about using pesticides - and/or prompt us to plant bee attracting flowers in our gardens. One of the most frustrating things about bee decline is that it is something we could all do something about. If only we knew it was happening. 

I appreciate that the recent horse meat issue was absolutely scandalous, but seriously, it was a picnic in the park compared with the possibility of mass insect extinction
. And, make no mistake, if we don't do everything we can to halt the decline of bees and other pollinators, that is exactly where we're heading.

As I've written in previous posts, pesticides are not the only cause of bee decline. We have lost 98% of our wildflower meadows and grasslands since the end of the second world war and this has already had a very serious impact on bee species and population. There are other contributing factors such as climate change, pollution, disease and (for honeybees) the practices involved in large scale commercial beekeeping. 

Banning, or at least restricting the use of the neonicotinoid group of insecticides that are implicated in bee deaths will not in itself solve the problem; but it will go a long way towards it. It's too late to bring back most of the the lost habitat, and we can't halt climate change tomorrow, but we KNOW these pesticides are contributing to bee decline and it is within our power to stop using them and revert to more sustainable farming practices. 

Bees are not only important as pollinators of human food. They are 'keystone species' within the world's eco-systems. A world without bees would result in a world without the wild flowers they pollinate, along with the loss of the birds, amphibians and small mammals that feed upon the seeds and other parts of those wild flowers - and of course the predators further up the food chain that rely on the small birds and mammals to keep them alive. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

Talking about icebergs, I'm beginning to understand what it must have been like to be aboard the Titanic just before she went down. A few of the passengers have noticed the iceberg and realise the implications should the ship not change course immediately - but most of them are either turning a blind eye, listening to the latest celebrity gossip, and putting their trust the ship's captain who says he's concerned about the iceberg but needs to see 'unequivocal scientific evidence that hitting ice-bergs causes ships to sink' before he will give the order to turn his vessel around.

Anyway, it's beyond my understanding why something as obvious and tangible as bee decline isn't getting the publicity and attention it deserves, but in the mean time you can help by writing to your MP and asking him/her to put pressure on Owen Paterson, Secretary for the Environment to vote in favour of the EC's proposed partial ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.



You can download a template for your letter from the BUGLIFE charity website here -  Letter to MP template 

And for up-to-date information about the current situation please read this excellent post by Matt Shardlow CEO of Buglife..... The Flight of Neonicotinoids

 
Loss of wild pollinators serious threat to crop yields, study finds




Thank you for all that you do! 

Brigit x