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Bees threatened by pesticides

Many readers will have been seriously concerned over the plight of the bumble bee (Eds. – forgive us, we couldn’t resist). Less well-known is that some common gardening practices such as the use of chemicals have unwittingly contributed. Beekeeper, local author and campaigner Louise Westwood has retrieved some recent research and here presents her summary.

The effect of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides on the natural world has a very distressing history and most of us can remember the devastation of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) which continued long after it was banned. The use of neonicotinoids (neonics) is a serious threat to our bees and I therefore decided to read some of the latest scientific offerings on the subject instead of relying on rumour and sensational journalism.

The findings of good scientific research are readily available. There is a strict code of conduct for scientific papers which are peer reviewed before publication. Writers also have to divulge their funding source and reveal any other financial backing which may have the potential to influence the outcome of the research. Many articles are now put straight onto the internet which means that the latest research is rapidly accessible unlike in the past when an academic/scientific paper could take up to 18 months to get published. To give you a quick update on the latest findings, I have chosen four papers. The only criteria for the choices I made were that they should be very recent and also concerned with honey or bumble bees.

The neonic group of pesticides can also be found in household products for use in the garden. The soil association has published a list and lobbied retail outlets to remove them from sale see www.soilassociation.org/wildlife/bees/householdpesticides I recently found several of these in ESK in Eastbourne and will be writing to them to get them to remove them from their shelves. Spotting a product with these pesticides in them is not easy because they have various names such as CLOTHIANIDIN, THIAMETHOXAM, THIACLOPID and IMADACLOPRID. On some products the active ingredient is written in very small letters or omitted altogether which raises questions about the legality of this practice.

The research papers

1) ‘Sub-Lethal Effects of Pesticide Residues in Brood Comb on Worker Honey Bee (Apis Mellifera) Development and Longevity’, published February 2011, research carried out in the USA and available on www.plosone.org (use the search box to put in the first line of the article’s title). This research is the first to demonstrate sub-lethal effects on worker honey bees from pesticide residue exposure resulting from contaminated brood comb. The effects include delayed larval development and adult emergence and also reduced adult longevity.

2) ‘Multiple Routes of Pesticide Exposure for Honey Bees Living Near Agricultural Fields’ was published in January 2012, the research was carried out in the USA and can also be found on www.plosone.org as above. This article explains how farmers use seeds dressed with neonics and the various ways that this agricultural system contaminates the plants and soil nearby. It is then passed on to the foragers collecting pollen and nectar with devastating results because it is highly toxic to bees. Also see www.farmingforum.co.uk

3)‘A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees’ was published 29th March 2012, the research was carried out in France and can be found on www.sciencemag.org/content/early/recent by scrolling down to articles published in March (you may have to purchase the article). This research which uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags attached to the honey bees to monitor them has found that non-lethal exposure of honey bees to neonicotinoid systemic pesticide causes high mortality due to homing failure at levels that could put a colony at risk of collapse.

4) ‘Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production’ also published 29th March 2012 and the research was carried out in the UK and can be found on the www.sciencemag.org as above. This research found that bumble bee colonies exposed to the pesticide had significantly reduced growth rate and suffered an 85% reduction in the production of new queens when compared with the control colonies.

Take Action

There are campaign groups around who are fighting to get these poisons banned but up to now nothing has been achieved. We need a vigorous campaign to get the government’s Food and Environment Research Agency to take this issue seriously and I for one have already written to the South East’s MEP Peter Skinner who raised this issue in the European Parliament in March 2011. There is an important online petition here at Avaaz for lobbying Bayer, one of the main manufacturers; and there are more online petitions at www.change.org which are addressed to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

You can buy Louise’s recent book A Bee In My Bonnet: Obsessions of a Beekeeper from Northern Bee Books

 

 

Posted 13:19 Thursday, Apr 26, 2012 In: Green Times

Also in: Green Times

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