Despite increasing evidence that pesticides are playing an important role in the decline of bees, the current restrictions on their use are inadequate and full of loopholes. Putting pressure on the Government to protect these vital, tiny pollinators is more vital than ever.
Honeybees are just one of the over 250 species of bee in the UK. We also rely on different species of wild bumble bees and solitary bees to help pollinate our crops, the plants in our gardens, parks and countryside. But since 1900, we’ve lost around 20 species of bee in the UK alone and others are becoming less widespread. While loss of habitat is a key factor, the impact of pesticides – and especially neonicotinoids – is increasingly thought to be playing a significant part in our declining bee populations.
The weight of evidence from both laboratory and field tests is growing each year, but the legal safeguards to protect our bees from harmful pesticides are still critically insufficient.
Bees are a vital link in our food chain. They pollinate most of our main food and other crops, such as cotton, worldwide. But global studies have shown that some of the pesticides commonly used on these crops have a devastating and deadly effect on bees.
Neonicotinoids – or neonics for short – damage bees’ nervous systems and their motor function, affecting their ability to feed and forage for food, to navigate and homing instincts, and to reproduce.
New evidence shows that pesticides aren’t only found on the crops they’re intended for. High levels of neonics are being detected on wildflowers and hedgerows around fields of treated crops, which means the bees can’t escape them, and other wildlife is also at risk.
For example, it’s been shown that neonics stay in the soil much longer than expected, and they could be affecting the earthworms that are essential for keeping our soils healthy.
The tragic irony about the use of these chemicals on our food and other crops is that the overall impact of pesticides could be causing more harm than good. For a start, pesticides kill not just genuine pests, but many of the beneficial insects that naturally help keep crop pests away. Use of neonics has been found to be harming the beetles which would usually help control slugs.
Dr Jean-Marc Bonmatin, from the National Centre for Scientific Research in France, is one of the lead authors of a global study into the use of insecticides. He states: ‘Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem’.
There is also early evidence that the use of neonics may not actually improve crop yields which is one of the claims made for them.
All this is adding up to an overwhelming case for making the current restrictions on the use of neonicotiniods permanent, and also extending them to include all crops – such as wheat and barley.
Plant your own pesticide-free wildflowers!
Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause continues to campaign and put pressure on the Government to safeguard and improve the restrictions on the use of these deadly pesticides. And you can show your love for the bees today by requesting your FREE bee-friendly seeds to plant in your garden or window box.