Bees are crucial to our existence, but how safe is their future?
Updated: Jun 5
‘The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey’, for many of us this is how we are first introduced to bees by Winnie the Pooh as a child, and as we grow up we tend to consider them as merely a nuisance to summer picnics, but bees are actually crucial to our very existence. The insects are the biggest crop pollinators on earth, meaning that we would not be eating in the same way without them.
A species under threat
There are more than 20,000 species of bees but in 2015 the European Red List for Bees reported that almost one in ten species of wild bee could face extinction in Europe.
There’s a myriad of reasons that bees are under threat, but one of them includes our agricultural practices and the pesticides we use.
In 2018, the UK Government supported the ban of neonicotinoid pesticides due to the harm they caused to bees; which are known to have sub-lethal effects on bees’ foraging and colony performance.
These effects have been researched by The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. They explained that when the pesticides are used on crops, residue of the neonicotinoid will then be consumed by bees and, depending on the quantity consumed, can be become lethal.
A further problem with the pesticide that the research found is that it can remain in the soil for years, in woody plants this can be up to six years.
Battle for the bees
A result of scientific research into these effects meant that this neonicotinoids ban has remained in place, however, in January the Government agreed to authorise their use for the treatment of sugar beet seed. However, it was met with such a negative response by environmentalists, in March the Government agreed not to grant the authorisation.
Similarly, last week the EU upheld their 2018 decision following an appeal by Bayer who argued there was not sufficient new scientific data to support the ban and warned that banning the insecticides would mean farmers would have to revert to older chemicals which would involve spraying more.
Not all good news
So far it has been a win for bees, but the ban on these pesticides is only temporary, and can be revoked with emergency authorisation (like how they were nearly allowed in January due to the threat to sugar beet).
In future they could be allowed again, if they meet three tests, which are that the authorisation appears necessary because of a danger which cannot be contained by any other reasonable means; that the use of the product will be limited and controlled; and that there are special circumstances.
There is hope
Despite the risk that the insecticide could be used in the future, there is hope for the future of the species.
In Amsterdam, like the rest of Europe, the population of bees had been on the decline. However, in March, Florinda Nieuwenhuis, an ecologist at the municipality of Amsterdam, reported in Ten years of Wild Bee Policy in Amsterdam there had been a 45% increase in the number of solitary bee species recorded in the city in 2015, compared to a survey in 2000.
How? Dutch cities have introduced pollinator strategies, which includes techniques such as bee hotels and bee stops– basically making as many bee friendly places as possible: and its working.
For bees to have a future globally we need to ensure that these pesticides are not brought back and, like Amsterdam, provide bees with an environment where they can thrive.