15 July 2009

Buzz buzz - save the honey bee

Honey bees have a vital role in pollinating many of the country's crops but they are disappearing rapidly. Over the last two years there has been a massive decline in honey numbers and as many as one in three hives failed, but the Government seems to have little interest in this problem, despite the fact that the value of bees has been estimated at £200 million a year. This problem was highlighted recently by members of the all-party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, who said that money for research into bee health should be ring-fenced rather than put in a general pot for research into pollinating insects. They want DEFRA to take more action, such as asking bee-keepers to register so that inspections can be made, which would give a much better picture of the health of the nation's honey bees.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee said "Honeybees are dying and colonies are being lost at an alarming rate. This is very worrying, and not just because the pollination of crops by honeybees is worth an estimated £200m each year to the British economy. So it is difficult to understand why Defra has taken so little interest in the problem up to now. Additional money for research into honeybee health has been announced, but the focus will include all pollinating insects," He went on to add, "We need to know what proportion of the funding is to be ring-fenced specifically for research into the causes of the decline in honeybee numbers."

One possible cause of the rapid rise in hive death (often called colony collapse disorder or CCD) is the use of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids. These were first used in the mid 1990s, a period that coincided with the first observations of mass bee deaths. These chemicals block specific nerve pathways in the central nervous system of the insect. In bees, they interfere with communication, foraging, orientation and flight. Other countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia, have banned them but they are still legal in the UK.

The Soil Association is so concerned about these chemicals that it has started a petition calling on Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs to ban neonicitinoid pesticides with immediate effect. Sign the petition today: www.soilassociation.org/bees.aspx

There is a lightbox of images at this url : http://www.ecoscene2.captureweb.co.uk/lbshow.php?lightboxid=387429465654

Ecoscene can privide photo features on the honey bee and other related stories.

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