Pesticide and herbicide risk to bees that are vital for our food supply

May 25th, 2012 by Friends of the Earth

A bumblebee feeds on red clover at Jerbourg, St Martin on 13 May 2012 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

According to the UK government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) pesticide use rose by 6.5% between 2005 and 2010.

Trends in the use of pesticides have varied strongly between UK crops over the past five years but overall pesticide use rose 6.5% due to increasing treatment intensity on a number of crops including those most pollinated by bees such as oilseeds (an increase of 26%).

Herbicide use has increased by 78% on oilseeds increasing the risk to bee populations.

Friends of the Earth has published “The Decline of England’s Bees” which exposes the pesticide and herbicide risk to bees.

(click on report cover to download to your computer)

The research was carried out by leading bee experts at the University of Reading as part of the environment charity’s latest campaign, The Bee Cause.

As well as an overall rise in pesticide use, the report reveals an increase in insecticides that tend to be used on crops pollinated by bees – increasing the risk to them.

The report also shows the use of herbicides can destroy important sources of food for bees.

In March 2012 the journal Science published Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production, which was the result of research led by Penelope Whitehorn of University of Stirling. The research found an 85% rise in deaths of Queen bumblebees when subject to the neonicotinoid pesticide Imidacloprid.

In another study led by Jeffery Pettis, Pesticide exposure in honey bees results in increased levels of the gut pathogen Nosema, the researchers “clearly demonstrated an increase in pathogen growth within individual bees reared in colonies exposed to one of the most widely used pesticides worldwide, imidacloprid, at below levels considered harmful to bees.”

“Interactions between pesticides and pathogens could be a major contributor to increased mortality of honey bee colonies, including colony collapse disorder, and other pollinator declines worldwide,” the study states.

Although use of imidacloprid has declined, according to FERA the use of other neonicotinoids such as Thiamethoxam and Clothaianidin have increased substantially.

Bees are critical to Britain’s food supply and economy, but numbers of some species have fallen dramatically in recent years.

The report found that two British bumblebee species have become extinct, solitary bees have declined in over half the areas they were studied in and managed honey bee colonies fell by 53% between 1985 and 2005.

Research released last month by Friends of the Earth revealed it would cost the UK an extra £1.8 billion every year to hand pollinate crops without bees.

Friends of the Earth is calling on UK Prime Minister David Cameron to produce a National Bee Action Plan to tackle bee decline.

It says the UK Prime Minister should suspend those pesticides linked to bee deaths, make changes to the way impacts on bee health are assessed, and include targets for reducing use of pesticides.

(click on report cover to download to your computer)

The report, which also exposes other crucial areas where the UK Government must take action in the National Bee Action Plan to protect bees, concludes that “perhaps the greatest shortcoming is the failure of government to fully recognise the importance and conservation needs of bees across the country.”

The report’s findings reveal that the loss of lowland meadows and hedges and the destruction of local wildlife sites have removed vital sources of food and nesting sites for bees.

Farmers urgently need more support to ensure a bee-friendly countryside, planning policy must be strengthened to protect bee habitats and there needs to be a new focus on supporting bee species other than managed honeybees.

The Bee Cause supporter, celebrity gardener and presenter of BBC’s Bees, Butterflies and Blooms, Sarah Raven, said “bees are vital to our food supply and our economy so it makes sense for us to do everything in our power to save them.”

“Being bee-friendly in our gardens is a great way to create much-needed places for bees to live and to easily up the amount of food in the UK for them,” she said.

“Action in our gardens must be supported by action from the UK Government to protect our bees.”

Paul de Zylva, Nature Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said “it’s shocking that pesticide use is still on the rise on the very crops that bees visit most when their use is being increasingly linked to the decline in bee populations.

“As well as an overdue investigation into the impact of pesticides on bees, the UK Government must make urgent changes to the way we plan our towns and cities and farm our countryside so we can reverse their decline.

“To save our economy billions and give bees the best chance, UK Prime Minister David Cameron must commit to a National Bee Action Plan,” he concluded.


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