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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The best flowering herbs for attracting bees

This week the Horticultural Trading Association guest blog shares their ideas on the top herbs for attracting bees to your garden. They are also offering you a chance to win a herb garden set that you can grow in your garden.

Bee on lavender

Herbs are the unsung heroes when it comes to enticing our furry flying friends into our gardens. Deliciously fragrant to both humans and bees, pollinators absolutely crave flowering herbs, especially those that prefer lots of sun. From our slim honeybees to our big furry bumbles, the following herbs are a must if you want to create a bee-friendly super haven in your garden.

Lavender

LavenderThere’s nothing more hypnotic than sitting in your garden watching bees collect nectar from lavender. The plant is most often grown for its fragrant, relaxing scent. The soothing aroma produces a slight calming effect when inhaled. This makes for a wonderful experience peacefully observing the bees, watching them dance softly back and forth, feeling completely connected to nature.

However the effect is slightly different for our bee friends, they go absolutely crazy for the nectar-rich plant. This is because some of the world’s highest-quality pollen is produced from lavender. This makes for some very happy, healthy bees. Furthermore, lavender is a hardy plant and easy to grow, recommended for beginner gardeners.  It flowers during the summer months.

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BeeWalk 2015 - Review of the year

By Dr Richard Comont, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Data Monitoring Officer

First and foremost I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that has been involved in this year’s BeeWalk survey. BeeWalk continues to grow from strength to strength, and that’s only possible because volunteers are willing to go out and monitor their local bumblebees for us – thank you!

BeeWalk is the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s national recording scheme, which monitors the abundance of bumblebees across the UK.  The survey would be impossible without dedicated BeeWalk volunteers, who identify and count the bumblebees they see on an hour’s walk each month from March to October.

If there was one word to describe 2015, it would probably be ‘patchy’. A later spring than 2014 delayed things slightly and the season didn’t really get going until a week of sunshine during Easter.  After that it was a case of two steps forward, one step back as sunny days were replaced by gloomy skies, often several times in the same week.  This had an impact on the spring species like the Early bumblebee, which saw numbers fall – this was probably inevitable after the record-breaking spring of 2014 and represents a reversion to the mean rather than a worrying issue.

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