Time for urgent action to reverse bee decline

The ‘minister for bees’ must announce an urgent plan to save Britain’s most precious pollinating insects

Bees are in decline. 47 of our wild bumble and solitary bees are listed as threatened, we’ve lost some bee species already and according to the British Beekeepers’ Association, last winter was the worst on record for the loss of honey bee colonies, with more than one-third not surviving hibernation.

Their decline is worrying – especially the wild varieties that don’t live in managed hives – they are one of our most valuable pollinating insects. Scientists at the University of Reading recently estimated that were we to replace their services and pollinate our food crops by hand, it would add £1.8 billion to the cost of food production.

And they are not only of value to our food chain and economy, they pollinate a wide variety of our most treasured flowers keeping our natural world looking beautiful.

On Friday, the Women’s Institute, the Co-operative Group – Britain’s biggest farmer – and Waitrose will join Friends of the Earth to host the UK’s largest ever summit on bees. Top scientists from the Universities of Cambridge, Reading, Sussex and elsewhere, the National Farmers’ Union, the BBKA, the Country Landowners’ Association, the Royal Horticultural Society, RSPB, M&S, B&Q and many more will gather to begin work on an action plan to save bees.

More than 200 MPs, including a majority of Lib Dems have now signed a statement supporting the introduction of a comprehensive national action plan for bees. Hundreds of thousands of people across a plethora of bee campaigns have called for action, planted bee-friendly flowers, worked with landowners and local councils to increase the amount of land available for bees to forage.

Previous Government plans have focussed on dealing with pests and diseases that affect honey-bees, neglecting wild bees. This new plan should focus on the main causes of decline in all of our bees, wild or managed.

The dramatic loss of habitat (97 per cent of our wild meadows and grasslands have been lost since 1950), lack of proper monitoring of wild bees, lack of advice and guidance to farmers, government agencies and local authorities on bees, the use of some chemical pesticides, and the limited success of initiatives, such as Biodiversity 2020.

A Bee Action Plan should be systematic and set specific targets for the restoration of habitats, the reduction of pesticides and for the reversal of bee decline.

Ahead of Friday’s summit, it would be extremely welcome to hear a very public statement from our party’s leadership on the urgent need for a comprehensive plan of action. Or, to put it another way, it would seem very wrong were the Liberal Democrats not to stand behind a plan to reverse bee decline.

The Government is known to be ‘actively considering’ such a plan. If the ‘minister for bees’ does announce that he will launch a Bee Action Plan with immediate effect, then he will have broad support.

For our bees’ sake, but also to safeguard food production and keep our nation beautiful, Friday must mark a turning point.

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8 Comments

  • I’m sorry but is this some sort of joke? The party leadership is waging a war against the poorest in society and you are writing about bees. Unbelievable.

  • Dave – bees pollinate 70% of world food supplies. If they die out, so do we.

  • Paul in Twickenham 26th Jun '13 - 9:02pm

    I’m sorry Dave, but did you actually read this article: “Scientists at the University of Reading recently estimated that were we to replace their services and pollinate our food crops by hand, it would add £1.8 billion to the cost of food production.” Bees don’t need us – but we most certainly need bees.

    And it is vital that we understand the drivers for this precipitous decline in the numbers of a vital part of the ecosystem. One suspects that the law of unintended consequences has kicked in here but only research will tell.

  • Donnachadh McCarthy 26th Jun '13 - 11:29pm

    AFAIAA David Heath, Lib Dem Environment Minister is also part of the problem.

    He has supported the Secretary of State’s for the Environment’s support for the Pesticide Corporations opposition to a ban on the bee-killing pesticides Neonicotinoids.

    These things are vicious – when used systemically it cannot be washed off but pervades in every section of the plant.

    We need an immediate and total ban on all these products in the UK asap.

    They even tried to halt a temporary partial ban by the EU but thankfully EU democracy outvoted the Paterson/Heath support for the corporate bee killers.

  • At last! Some more LibDems have awoken to the serious problem of the decline in the populations of bRitish bees, both domesticated and wild.

    Several years ago, when a member of Abbots Langley PC’s Leisure Committee, I drew the attention of members to the bees problem and suggested that one or more hives should be introduced on one or more of our three allotments sites. The response was resoundingly negative! At the same time, I suggested similar action on the small estate of alms-houses where I lived. The result there was even more negative!

    I’ve also been nagging away about neonicotinoids for ages – and signing petitions, freguently.

    So, I feel that I’m entitled to say, ‘I told you so’!

    Yes, the secretary of state is a climate change-denier and is pro-bee killing pesticides. In fact, Paterson’s appointment demonstrates our country-dwelling PM’s true attitude to the environment. And, as ‘Donnachadh McCarthy’ has pointed out: LD minister Heath appears to be almost as bad as his boss.

    By the way ‘Dave’, I think that most of we rank and file LDs are capable of fighting more than one battle at a time. Certainly, I am fighting the ‘strivers or skivers’ attitude of OldCon – an attitude with which, sadly, most LD ministers seem to agree. I’m an active supporter of UKUncut, Coalition of Resistance, etc. Indeed, it’s only a few weeks since I took part in yet another demo.

    And yes, I am on the anarcho-syndicalist wing of our party – and proudly so!

  • Sorry about the typing errors in my comment: the cataracts seem to be progressing faster than was expected when diagnosed! Ah well….

  • I think a major challenge we have is that there is a significant number of people who just don’t understand food production and see no connection between countryside ie. fields, orchards etc. and farming and what is available from their local supermarket; ‘Dave’ is just the latest contributor to LDV who has exhibited this ignorance. in recent months…

  • @David White
    Perhaps you might have been a little more successful if you had been a little oblique by just ensuring the rules and regulations didn’t prohibit the keeping of bee’s and then quietly encouraging a local bee keeper to run an experiment…

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