April 19, 2013

A little bit about the birds and the bees....

Like it or not, we are all intrinsically connected to bees for our food security.  Their health and survival is our health and survival.

Bees, and other natural pollinators fertilize 90% of all we eat either directly through fruit and cereals, or indirectly via the mixed fodder which fattens the animals we eat. Bees, hoverflies, moths and bats are vital to the human food cycle.

But something bad is happening. Bees are dying. 

Bees are suffering from climate change and disease, but to halt the decline, there is something we can do right now: stop the use of pesticides.

The natural order of nature is being arrested by chemically treated seed, much of which is impregnated with pesticides before being sown. The pesticides enter every cell of the growing plant – leaves, flowers, pollen, roots – and the bees absorb these chemicals as they feed on the flower nectar.

The bees do not drop down dead instantly – that would be too easy to detect – but the pesticides, chiefly the neonicotoids , are a type of ‘nerve agent’ . The bees suffer brain damage similar to epilepsy. It is permanent.  They cannot find their way home, and they die.

Defra's chief scientist Dr Ian Boyd said, "Neonicotinoids will kill bees, let me be absolutely clear about that.”

Dr Christopher Connolly from Dundee University has produced the latest in a line of studies by British universities which prove that neonicotinoids are disastrous for bees. Research at Stirling University found they caused problems for queen bees. Then Newcastle University found they damaged bees' ability to learn – and, this has been fatal.

By 2050, we are going to have to feed 9.2 billion people – so in the next 50 years or so we are going to have to produce as much food as humanity has produced in our entire history.

85% of our queen bees have been lost already; beekeepers are reporting alarming colony declines, The UK is importing hundreds of thousands of bees every year to pollinate our fruit and crops. This is the very loud ring of an alarm bell telling us all to wake up!

And it’s not just about the bees, its about the birds too – and all flowers and wildlife in the interdependent ecosystem on which humans totally rely.  Between 1970 and 2010 in the UK, farmland birds dropped in alarming numbers. Turtle doves declined by 93 per cent, and will sadly soon be extinct; grey partridges by 91 per cent; corn buntings by 90 per cent; skylarks by 58 per cent. The sights and sounds of the countryside today are but a pale echo of the past.

The biggest problem we have is the Goliath pesticide industry, which is using strong-arm tactics to push its arguments in favour of the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. But the evidence is clear: the natural abundance of, bees, butterflies, moths and birds is in a terrible spiral of decline.
Alternatives to pesticides exist. It is possible to farm without neonicotinoids. Environmentally-friendly farming involving simple techniques such as crop rotation do not require the use of chemical pesticides.

Farmers need to urgently change their methods, and this will take time.  In the meantime, small gardens will be the lifeline to bees this year, so please make sure you don’t use any chemicals in yours.