Friday night was approaching and I had a choice. Quality pub time with the girls (not something I have the chance to do very often) or sit in a cold meeting room watching a B-movie on a projector.
I chose the film. The B-movie was in fact the bee movie ‘More than Honey’ and was shown by my local Friends of the Earth group who are campaigning to save bees.
A smattering of green types, wildlife enthusiasts and honey bee keepers turned up. The stand-out statistic from the film highlighted why we all should have been there: If bees die out, humans would follow four years later. This is because at least 75% of our food is pollinated by bees. From almonds and apples to broccoli and blueberries, bees do the hard work in our food chain.
At the beginning of the month, an EU regulation came into force banning the use of neonicotinoids for two years. These are pesticides that are already on the seeds, so the crops don’t require spray treatment throughout their life. Neonics are powerful neurotoxins, which kill insects and, even at very low dosages, can impair their behaviour. Great when you want to eliminate crop pests, not so great when it harms our useful pollinators.
You would have thought bee lovers would be celebrating the ban, but no, it has met a mixed reception. The British Bee Keeping Association is concerned that it is premature and states that there is currently no real evidence that neonics damage bees in the wild. Environmental groups such as the Friends of the Earth, by contrast, are relieved that a temporary prohibition will offer some breathing space from this chemical exposure.
Neither side wants a return to outdated pesticides which may do more harm than the ban will prevent. Proper advice will be needed for farmers and growers so that wildlife friendly measures can be taken.
As ever, one tweak will not solve the crisis. The film highlighted the many challenges facing bees, including disease and habitat loss. Pesticides do of course need monitoring and controlling where appropriate, but if there is not enough availability or variety of nectar and pollen sources for bees then they are doomed anyway.
As Friday nights out on the town go, this one was more sobering than most. It’s easy to feel cut off from decisions that affect us and the next generation. After all, cold meeting halls do not have a big pull. I urge you though, to take a couple of small steps for bees this Christmas. Firstly, visit the Friends of the Earth website and register for your bee saver kit and also sign their petition to lobby government for a Bee Action Plan.
Next, forget those poncy poinsettia plants as last minute gifts this year. Everyone needs a gorgeous Christmas Box bush whose delicate white flowers will provide early nectar for bees.
It’s Friday again. Now where is my Shiraz? P.S thanks bees for pollinating the grape vines, I can’t imagine Friday nights without you.
First published in the EDP and EADT on Friday 13th December 2013