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 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