Bees contribute to £400 million per annum to the UK economy – but their survival is under threat. In the last century, 97% of our wildflowers have disappeared, while the growing agricultural demand creates an ever stronger reliance on pesticides, ie. that of the bee-harming insecticide, neonicotinoids (neonics).
Studies have found that neonicotinoids, once ingested, have harmful effects on bees and their nervous system, confusing their natural orientation and damaging their ability to breed.
Fortunately, back in 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reported that the three principle neonicotinoids – thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid – caused an unacceptable risk to bees. As a result, the European Commission imposed a moratorium of the insecticide on oilseed rape across Europe.
That being said, recent reports have further placed doubt on the use of neonics on other crops – even those unattractive to bees – such as barley and wheat. A large-scale, real-world study published in June 2017 by the Centre of Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has revealed that other “diverse mechanisms of exposure”, such as contamination of the soils and wildflowers, arises from use of neonicotinoids on other non-flowering crops.
“The negative effects of neonicotinoids on wild bees may also be the result of diverse mechanisms of exposure that include persistent residues of neonicotinoids in arable systems due to their widespread and often very frequent use.” – Dr. Ben Woodcock, lead of author of the CEH study.
However, critics question the validity of the scientific data within the UK, considering the varying factors from country to country that determine the outcomes of these experiments.
Meanwhile, campaigners believe that given the evidence so far – further outlined here on a blog by Professor Dave Goulson, an expert on pollinators – it would be dangerous to overlook the science that requires, at a minimum, the precautionary approach.
Friends of the Earth has been campaigning to reverse bee decline since 2012. They are currently working towards a permanent and comprehensive ban on the use of neonicotinoids, by co-operating with people, farmers and businesses to encourage a bee-friendly approach to our everyday lives.
Friends of the Earth Oxford has been enlisting the public to get inspired about bees since the start of the campaign. In Spring 2013, the city created their own wildflower meadow as part of the Bee World initiative to create pockets of pollinator havens in Oxford.
In 2014, they hosted the very first Oxford Bee Summit as a response to the growing interest in bees to encourage discussion and action towards the bee cause campaign.
More recently, in August, Oxfordshire hosted the BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace – an event to celebrate nature and environment – at which many a human bee could be spotted!
The inspiring work of Friends of the Earth Oxford alongside many other local NGO groups and activists has led to a significant result in a recent poll by calculating that “76% of the UK public think government should support EU proposals to extend restrictions on bee-harming pesticides to all crops”.
The farming community and chemical firms have contradictory concerns. The National Farming Union (NFU) in the UK have maintained a disagreement with the ban since the European Commission imposed it in 2013 and believe a permanent ban would jeopardise the future of crop production.
Here is a video that highlights the experiences of farmers who have successfully tried and tested farming without neonics – it can be done!
Essentially, this issue comes down to a question of mindset.
Do we see the ban on neonicotinoids as a short-term problem for crop production and the chemical industry’s profit, or a long-term concern for the future and sustainability of bee populations and thus, our food?
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