Bees, neonicotinoids and pollination: moving forward

So three neonicotinoid products are to be banned across Europe for two years from December 1st 2013.  It is evident that there are a range of possible reasons for a decline in bee populations, including diseases such as Varroa, issues surrounding breeding and sufficient food and habitat availability. In two years’ time there will be a review of the ban, but is that long enough to prove anything? I think we’ll just have to wait and see. There are some interesting views on the topic here.

Bee on knapweed

One thing the whole debate has stirred up is the need to do more for bees and other pollinators, and it has given much needed publicity to the importance of bees in the environment.

I spoke to Andrew Hughes, Farm Manager at Trinley Estates, where they’ve done a lot of work to help bees and other pollinating insects thrive on the farm. “I’m a strong believer that if you provide bees with a good variety of plants, populations will be maintained and healthy. We always want to improve the amount and variety of nectar sources with pollen and nectar mixes, wild bird seed mixes, grass strips and we also have a wild flower meadow.  By producing greater plant diversity then we can produce stronger and broader food chains that will rescue some of our most endangered insect and bird species.”

Through some good woodland management, with coppicing and maintaining the flora, there is also a thriving wild bee population in the woodland found on the farm.

Arable reversion meadow at Trinley estates

Arable reversion meadow at Trinley estates

Andrew has also been working with local natural beekeepers, “The aim is to keep bees in as near natural conditions as possible to promote health and vigour and the ability to cope with pests and pathogens”.  And it seems to be working, “Our beekeepers have mentioned that many of the hives around us haven’t been doing so well recently, but where we haven’t taken any honey from the hives in the last few years, they’re doing really well.”

Andrew has been recording the fauna and flora on the farm through photography on its own dedicated website. “Ultimately, I am interested in monitoring population changes from one year to the next. But what it’s really doing is making me much more aware of the species we do have on the farm”. I urge you to take a look – it’s great to see the diversity of wildlife and there are some cracking photos too, my favourites being the hare shots!

Perhaps we hear about this kind of wonderful work disproportionately at LEAF, because of the nature of our members.  At LEAF, we promote Integrated Farm Management, which is an approach delivering sustainable farming.  One part of this is landscape and nature conservation, which sits alongside other areas like crop health and protection. The point is that everything needs to be integrated on the farm, and lots of our members have that approach.

Bees are vital to farming. Integrating positive steps to provide food and habitat for pollinators into commercial farming is something we fully endorse.

What do you think of the neonicotiniod ban? Is there more we can do for pollinating insects or do you think we’re doing enough already? I’d like to hear your views – please comment below.

Further links:

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8 responses to “Bees, neonicotinoids and pollination: moving forward

  1. Its very hard to see how this 2 year ban will provide any conclusive information. The number of variables which affect bees is simply too great. Furthermore, farmers will be making more frequent applications of alternative insecticides which might be more damaging than the neonics were. So whether bees do better or worse than before its not going to be possible to attribute this to neonicotinoids. What was needed was more scientific field studies. Perhaps its not too late to do this work – outside the EU of course.

  2. I’ve been really surprised at the response to the EU’s ban – here in Australia it’s not even on the political agenda, so the coverage has been fairly basic. But the more I read about how much people are opposing the ban in UK, USA and Europe, the more surprised I am – have we lost our sense of perspective? The ban is great news – the restrictions on their own won’t do much, but the issue itself can raise awareness about the importance of pollinators, farming practices in general, and the wide-reaching effects of chemicals like neonics. Sadly, many seem to have missed this point – the focus is once again on reductionist thinking…bees or chemicals, choose one side and ignore the rest of the story!
    Also, there seem to be a lot of journalists/commentators claiming that there is no evidence because no field studies have been done. Field studies will be fairly impossible to do…because these chemicals are so ubiquitous in the environment and bees fly such long distances, it will be impossible to provide a ‘control’ population of bees to back up any results (that’s what happened with Defra’s contaminated study). There have been quite a few recent studies that combine lab and field based methods that DO provide evidence of a negative impact – that is definitely enough proof to base a decision like this on.
    Thanks for a great post – I’m glad to hear there are farms like Trinley that do appreciate the importance of biodiversity!

  3. Thanks for the comments Graham and Manu.

    There are concerns regarding the alternative control strategies which could be used in the absence of Neonicotinoids. The potential implications of these alternative control strategies do not appear to be known.

    What we do know is that there are plenty of farmers out there working hard to enhance biodiversity on their farms. Trinley is a shining example, and one which you can see for yourself at their Open Farm Sunday event in June – http://www.trinley.co.uk/openfarmsunday.htm

  4. Pingback: Saving The Bees: How EU’s Pesticide Ban Affects The US | Pest Control and Bug Exterminator Blog

  5. Of course 2 years is too short, only a politician would think it adequate to judge long-term effects in the environment. They’re doubtless hoping it will be inconclusive so they can again do what the American pesticides companies want and allow a continuation of the poisoning. The act as if our food supply will disappear without this onslaught of chemicals, which organic farms show is a lie.

    It’s a fight between attitudes – treat nature as the enemy and maximise what we take by drenching with insecticides and herbicides annually, resenting every little bit that others species consume; or work with nature, using natural controls and accept a small loss to other species. What the chemical gang don’t understand is the complexity; wild plants encourage insects which encourage birds which control ‘weeds’ and ‘pests’. A natural balance working with the ecosystem, not declaring war on the ecosystem and every other species in a selfish grab for more.

    The Tory party answers to livestock farmers/big landowners more than to people who value biodiversity – Owen Patterson is MP for Shropshire, a heavily meat producing, badger killing and fox hunting county and clearly one of them – and they have shown they will ignore science when they wish.

  6. John Henderson

    We run a large fresh produce business both for export and local sales as well as broad acre cropping. We ensure a diverse environment and controlled application and targeting of crop protection products.
    We have a very healthy bee population.
    My analogy to all this is that a Golf GTi is a car that can easily break the speed limit, and if I regularly do so then I should be banned from driving, however, the easy way to stop a Gti from breaking the speed limit is to ban the GTi, not those who use it wrongly,and unfortunately, this is what is often done to crop protection products which ultimately reduces the availability of safe effective products that are environmentally friendly when used properly, and limits us to use less selective and environmentally harsher materials, which is in nobody’s interest in the long term which is hopefully what we are all here for.

    • Good to hear you have a very healthy bee population, John. I like the analogy, there’s certainly a lot of different viewpoints on the topic from the use of the products to the research on them to the practicalities of a two year ban.

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