All about the bees blog

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author alone. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors or omissions.


The trials and tribulations of managing urban grasslands for pollinators

By Sam Page, Project Development Manager – Making a Buzz for the Coast

I’m writing this blog from the train on my way back from an interesting day out in Bristol.  I’m not normally in that neck of the woods (it’s a bit of a trek from Brighton and Kent where I spend most of my time) – and I didn’t get to see much of Bristol itself – as I was there for a ‘Knowledge Exchange’ workshop on Managing urban grasslands for pollinators run by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the University of Bristol as part of the National Pollinator Strategy.


The short-haired bumblebee project’s summary of 2015 and plans for 2016

By Nikki Gammans, Sub-T Project Manager

In May 2015 the project undertook its fourth trip to Sweden to collect emerging queens and then completed the release in June, after two weeks of quarantine. The project is now planning its fifth Swedish queen collection and release for 2016. This will mark the end of our first stage of releases. In 2016 we will focus on analysing the genetics of the workers. We will be attempting to obtain faecal samples of the workers by placing them in a sterile tube and waiting up to ten minutes until they defecate. The faecal sample can then be analysed for DNA and compared to the queens released in that year to determine whether they are workers from the year’s release, or previous years. We will review our aims for the project going forward ie do we need to complete more releases in South Kent to help establish a population, or would it be possible to extend the release to elsewhere in Kent.

Short-haired Bumblebee queen (Bombus subterraneus)








Short-haired bumblebee queen (Bombus subterraneus) in Sweden


Conclusions from the debate on neonicotinoids.

By Darryl Cox, Information Officer

Tuning in to the parliamentary debate was initially, for me, a frustrating experience. Lots of interrupted misinformed speeches, the passing on of birthday messages, poor bee jokes, and the usual misunderstanding about bees (it is clear that many people still do not realise that the honeybee is only one of the 276 bee species found in the UK); made it all rather painful to watch.

There were some positives though, I think. The fact that the debate took place and that it was so well attended shows how seriously MPs are taking this issue, even if admittedly some of their knowledge on the subject is very sketchy. It also means that people in the UK care a great deal about our pollinators and that lots of them successfully lobbied their MPs to represent their views, of which there was clear agreement from all sides that we should not take risks when it comes to exposing bees to pesticides.

Rather annoyingly, some MP’s fixated on the hope that science will one day reveal the one true cause of bee declines and that once we have discovered this, we will know what to do. For all those who think there is a quick-fix to bee declines, I must point out the hard truth, there is not a cause and effect relationship at play here. Scientific investigation has already revealed that there are multiple stressors which are all having an effect. Reduced flower availability in our intensively farmed landscapes, exposure to parasites and diseases, climate change, and pesticide exposure have all been found to play a role in bee declines, and it is these stressors in combination which are the problem. However, as MP Daniel Zeichner sensibly pointed out, of all the threats to bees, exposure to pesticides known to cause them harm, is one which we should and can tackle now, regardless of whether or not it is the main cause for decline.


Pesticides and pollinators: what does the future hold?

By Aoife O’Rourke, Conservation Officer (SW England)

I know that many of you have been following the neonicotinoid pesticide debate with much interest and concern. You may have noticed in the past two weeks alone a number of strong, compelling research papers have been published, which add to the ever growing pool of evidence proving that pesticides negatively impact bees and other pollinators.Dr Dara Stanley and her colleagues at Royal Holloway, University of London, published two complimentary papers on the 16th and 18th of November. The first demonstrated that bumblebee learning and memory is impaired by chronic exposure to a neonicotinoid pesticide, while the second established that not only does neonicotinoid pesticide exposure impair learning and memory in bumblebees, it also impairs the crop pollination service bumblebees provide.

This potentially has large implications for both crop yields and wild flower reproduction.

A week later Dr Gilburn and colleagues published a paper illustrating that there is a negative correlation between farmland butterflies and neonicotinoid usage.

The question is where do we go from here? If farmers and growers can no longer use neonicotinoid pesticides, what options do they have for crop protection?

Thankfully there are a range of other options out there for farmers and growers. These options fall under the umbrella term ‘Integrated Pest Management (IPM)’. IPM is a holistic approach to pest and pathogen control, whereby non-chemical methods are used to manage weeds, pests and diseases. This approach helps minimise the cost and environmental damage caused by chemical inputs. IPM can be used everywhere from gardens to agricultural land and even natural areas. The word ‘integrated’ hints at the most important aspect of IPM; instead of using one approach to tackle pests a combination of approaches are used, this is a more sustainable long-term way to manage pests.


People, Pesticides, Policy and Proof

By Darryl Cox, Information Officer.

Four days from now there will be a debate in parliament about a group of pesticides which were restricted by the European Commission 2 years ago because of concerns about the harm they cause to bees and other pollinating insects. If you haven’t had your head in the sand for the last two years you will probably have heard the name neonicotinoid by now - I’m not saying you will be able to pronounce it! And if that doesn’t roll easily off the tongue, how about the three banned neonicotinoids; imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin! Despite the long and unpronounceable names people have not stopped talking about these pesticides and their intended and unintended effects. It is an intriguing debate involving food security, wildlife protection, agriculture, the agro-chemical industry, and environmental campaign groups, and it is clearly an issue which people feel passionate about – over 90,000 signed a petition to bring this subject back in to the UK political arena.

Why do people feel it is still worthy of debate?

Perhaps because the UK were one of the EU Countries which voted against the ban in 2013. Or perhaps because like some of the other countries originally opposed to the ban, the UK has not stuck to it since it was enforced. Earlier this year government officials allowed the ban to be partially lifted for use on oilseed rape in parts of England. Many feel that by accepting the NFU’s application and allowing the use of two of the banned neonicotinoids, that the UK has set a precedent for further applications, effectively lifting the ban and making a statement that the UK government values oilseed rape yields (which ironically were above the 10 year average this summer, without any neonicotinoid treatment), more than they value pollinators.