Monday, 23 April 2012

Can We Save Our Bees?

The way we tend the plants in our gardens and the way our food is grown has a huge impact on the world around us, either for good or for ill.

Having learnt that some slug pellets were bad for the birds that might eat slugs and snails that had consumed the pellets I now use only Growing Success pellets, and sparingly.  I find copper rings can be just as useful in keeping my plants from being chewed (or should that be sucked?) by molluscs and a recent experiment with coffee grounds resulted in several dead snails.

I also try to buy organic food as I know many of the chemicals used by other farmers and growers can be damaging to wildlife.

One of the most concerning agrochemicals are neonicotinoid pesticides, which are a group of insecticides based on nicotine that include 'imidacloprid', 'clothianidin', 'thiamethoxam' and 'fipronil'. They have been designed to attack an insect's central nervous system, causing paralysis and eventually death when high levels overstimulate and block the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, or nAChR. They have been made to destroy insects which damage crops such as vine weevils, aphids, whitefly, Colorado potato beetle and termites. These chemicals cause paralysis and death in the target insects, which damage crops, but also harm other, beneficial insects such as bees and can interfere with their navigation systems and impairing their ability to groom themselves.

The other evening we watched the BBC 4 programme 'Who Killed the Honey Bee?', which someone had a recording of. It was looking at sudden colony collapse, which leaves bee hives almost empty of bees for no apparent reason, and the possibility that they could not find their way home was raised as a likely reason for this phenomenon.

It has been shown that bees which groom themselves more are more likely to survive attacks by the verroa mite, so if chemicals are reducing their ability to do this, then that could be a contributory factor to the number of bees dying due to infestations of the verroa mite.

Bees are also under stress due to climate change and the diminishing numbers of wildflowers available to them as food sources due to modern farming practices.

Early bumblebee
While people worry more about the loss of honey bees for commercial reasons, all of our approximately 250 species of bee must be under threat if these chemicals are damaging to bees, and bees of all kinds are vital to pollinate the crops we depend on for our health and strength. In fact the red mason bee is a more efficient pollinator of fruit crops than the honeybee. As Friends of the Earth tell us, "bees pollinate 75% of our most vital crops and favourite foods. Without bees and other insects we'd also have 20% less vitamin C, 41% less vitamin A and 9% less calcium". Once again we see that mindless damage to the environment and other creatures has a knock on effect on ourselves.

If you want to find out more about neonicitinoids, Bee Strawbridge has written an informative article.

A recent article in the Guardian reported the results of tests carried out by the Universities of Stirling and Avignon of the effects certain pesticides can have on bees, which backs up suggestions that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees.  Similar reports appeared in other newspapers. Yet the authorities seem to continue to think there is no need to worry.

Launching their new Bee Cause Campaign recently FoE also tell us that
"Without bees it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate our crops.
That's more than it costs farmers to produce all the milk consumed in the UK every year. "
"Bees are essential to our gardens, parks and countryside.
Bees and other insects help pollinate over 75% of our plants, which in turn are vital to our insects, birds and animals. "
Friends of the Earth's Bee Cause Campaign suggests several ways you can help improve the situation for bees and other beneficial insects from sending David Cameron an e-mail to planting more bee-friendly flowers in your garden.

I hope you will feel able to support the Bee Cause or do something to help the bees in your vicinity.  I have written about bee-friendly flowers recently here and here, if you want some ideas on what to plant to help feed the bees in your area.

1 comment:

  1. It is so important that gardeners think seriously about their impact on the environment. Growing flowers that will attract bees (usually those that have simple flowers isn’t a hardship, most are beautiful. Trying to deal with pests as you do using methods that don’t harm beneficial insects is vital. Gardening should be about creating a balance, a harmony; being brave and leaving a few ‘bad’ pests early in the year so that the beneficial insects have some prey and therefore can increase in numbers is vital. Christina


All relevant comments to this post are welcome, so feel free to have your say.