Opinion: What’s happening to our honey bees?

The 140 million year reign of the dinosaurs on the Earth ended abruptly without any discernible human scientific explanation. Most dinosaurs were vegetarian and therefore depended on plants, as a main source of food supply, just as we humans do today.

Was there a dramatic change in temperature as a result of climate change during an earlier pandemic of global warming? In the US, the first half of 2006 was the warmest since records began! Australian bee keepers now regularly ship bee swarms to California to pollinate and make viable the lucrative fruit, like blueberry cash crops.

Since 2006, about one third of the population of honey bees has been wiped out, by a mysterious inability of adult bees to return to their hives, leaving the Queen and hatching larvae, to become destitute and die.This new phenomenon has been happening on such an increasing scale word-wide, that it is now referred to as ‘Bee Colony Collapse Disorder’ and heralds the alarming prospect, unless resolved, that human habitat, the food chain and our human diet are all in doubt now and will be changed drastically at best within the next century.

About one-third of all human food is dependent on the honey bee pollination of plant and cereal crops and includes many everyday fruits and nuts, such as almonds, raspberries, cranberries, water-melons, cucumbers and strawberries. There are at least 90 fruit and vegetables dependant on honey bee pollination.

In the UK over the last 60 years, the bee hives have been reduced from 360,000 to 270,000 hives, and the cycle escapes definition in risk assessment terms and is destined to continue so, unless the bee pollutions are better understood and rate of decline arrested.

The popular honey bee, ‘Apis Mellifera’, is reputed to have existed in the UK for over 30 million years and clearly before that time bees were able to pollinate plants. But the question now arises as to how much longer the honey bee will be alive if the trend of decline is not corrected and populations of honey bees are not soon replenished world-wide.

There has been much speculation as to what is causing the adult honey bees to become lost. Different schools of thought have been formulated, including radiation from mobile phones and power cables, pesticides and crop spraying, and climate change, all linked as possible causes for interfering with the navigation systems of bees.

Another researched cause of potential honey bee extermination is the new ability of the parasite ‘cavarroa mites’ that attack them and are thought to derive from feral Asian bees and have now infiltrated into Australia. Another theory is that honey bees have now had their nutritional supplies weakened in the process of pollination and the life cycle of the honey bee itself has now been mutated.

Einstein said that when honey bees are extinct than the human population would have only 4 years to live. In point of fact, humans and significant species of animals would probably survive, but the impact on the food chain in the longer term and ecology of plant and animal life is unknown. And undoubtedly, without honey bee pollination many plants and animals would be unable to sustain alternative means to pollinate.

One area worth looking at in the equation of honey bee protection, is that Lord William Stewart – who chaired two government investigations that reported in 2000 into the potential damaging health impact of mobile phone hand-sets on humans – made a series of recommendations that have largely been ignored by the Government.

Stewart concluded that children under eight years should not be permitted to use mobile phones and that mobile masts should not be erected within 200 metres of schools and hospitals. German research has shown that human behaviour has changed near power lines, due to radiation, and there has been discussion as to whether male sperm counts are affected by constant use of mobile phones in work and daily life. There is also medical concern about ‘text thumb’, and some Finnish research suggests that the risk of brain tumours are increased by 40% by damaged brain cells from radiation on the same side of the human body, by those who use mobile phones constantly on that side.

Any conclusive link with either decline in honey bees and radiation levels from mobile phones or power cables must surely remain in question until enough research either proves or disproves the belief held by a significant number of scientists that if radiation is indeed having a potentially lethal affect on humans, it might also be adversely affecting wild life, including honey bee populations.

The important part of the diagnosis into honey bee destruction is to know to what extent the cause is man-made or natural climate change that can persuade the adult honey bee that it is early spring, and time to pollinate the pussy willow or the water melon or cotton plant?

I wonder in 2050 will there be honey still for tea?

I ask Government to re-balance a national reliance on the expertise of the 90% of talented amateur bee keepers in the UK. Surely, it is now time for greater research investment as to the problem of diminishing bee returning populations and to employ more professional bee keepers to monitor the life cycle of hive habitats, in future?

* Patrick Smith is a Liberal Democrat councillor on the London Borough of Waltham Forest. He notes that he and his wife enjoy honey from New Zealand, Lithuania and Romania – and Essex still has some of the best apiaries in the UK.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • I think you are probably up a blind alley with your possible link from mobile phones /power lines to bee colony collapse.

    Mobile phones have been with us for 25 years now, the overhead power cable system for over 60 years. While the there has been some expansion of overhead power lines in that time there has been little since privatisation.
    In the field of mobile phones both masts and handsets these days are both more numerous, but use very much lower power levels than first generation.

    The cause is much more likely to be varroa , climate change or pesticides.

    Indeed there was a fascinating programme about BCCD last night on BBC four.

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