Biodiversity and Local Partnerships

Halting the Decline of Bees and Other Pollinators in the UK 18th Nov 2015 at Grange Wellington Hotel, 71 Vincent Sq. London

Report on A PUBLIC POLICY EXCHANGE Symposium by delegate Margie Ramsay MPhil

The symposium attracted about 30 delegates mostly from the home counties of England and included a strange brew of scientists, agrichemical producers (Bayer), farmers and farming lobbyists, conservation pressure groups and wildlife trustees, council park managers and a few beekeepers. Scottish interests were represented by delegates from Strathclyde Uni, Keep Scotland Beautiful and the Native Dark bee Breeding Project at Beinn Eighe, Kinlochewe, it would have been nice to see more N.Irish and Welsh beekeeping involvement.

The day was chaired by Tim Lovett the director of Public Affairs for the British Bee Keepers Association, who in his introduction seemed resigned to defeat in the struggle against bee diseases with the dismaying statement “We are awaiting the arrival of the Small Hive Beetle.”

Matt Sharlow from Buglife told a similarly sad tale, reporting a 60% decline in pollinators and called for the government monitoring scheme to be fully funded and for urgent changes to the National Pollinator strategy, particularly re firming up of the blocks on neonicotinoid insecticide use in the UK.

Prof Charles Godfray of Oxford University called for increased ‘knowledge and evidence’ and asked for lessons to be learnt from Pharma in investing in trial registers and industry funded research.

Norman Carreck; a researcher at the University of Sussex and Science director of the International Bee Research Association COLOSS; and himself a beekeeper since the age of 15 years, flagged up the importance of preserving native honey bee stocks (Apis mellifera mellifera) as these are best adapted to UK climatic conditions, instead of relying on continued importation of foreign subspecies. Unrestricted importation of alien queens and bees carries the associated risk of bringing in new pests and diseases (like Small Hive Beetle) and doesn’t capitalise on the UK’s genetic resource of Amm bee stocks (ie Colonsay, Isle of Man and Wales etc). He also indicated that pesticides alone may not be the whole answer to the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder and that the role of pests and diseases was at risk of being overlooked by focusing on pesticide use alone.

The issue of disease and pesticide interaction was also of concern to Louise Payton (Soil Association) who addressed the importance of herbicides in reducing forage and breeding sites for insects. Her message was to bolster pollinators by expanding plant diversity and increasing the acreage of wild flower meadows and hedgerows. A theme also picked up by David Curry (Hertfordshire Orchard Initiative) to include fruit tree planting.

The work done by Britain’s 400 bee farmers was highlighted by Margaret Ginman (Secretary of the Bee Farmers Association) particularly her memberships involvement in the establishing of a little known national treasure in the honeybee reserve on Colonsay. Subsequent questions indicated that the existence of varroa-free areas and native honeybees in the UK was indeed news to some delegates and suggest that these should be better supported.

Conspicuous by its absence from the wild pollinator and bumblebee debate was the importance of our forest trees, and it would have been nice to see hear from the Forestry Commission. Similarly, input from custodians of the wilder environment such as SNH, RSPB, National Trust, English Heritage etc could have added to the proceedings.

As this policy exchange could influence future government action regarding honeybees it’s important that a rounded view of UK wide pollinator interests is obtained. It would have been good to have representatives from other interested parties and areas such as the Scottish Beekeepers Association, Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders Association (BIBBA) and the newly formed Scottish Native Honey Bee Group among others.