For decades, the plummeting populations of bees and other pollinators have provoked serious concern: the busy insects' work is essential to about a third of all the food we eat, including tomatoes, beans, apples and strawberries. The loss of flowery meadows, starving the bees, and the rise in parasites have long been blamed. But 2012 saw a third factor rise to prominence – neonicotinoid pesticides.
In March Science, one of the world's most prestigious peer-reviewed science journals, published two landmarks studies. One (Goulson in Sterling) showed that bees consuming the pesticide suffered a catastrophic loss in the number of queens produced, while the other (Henry in Avignon) showed a doubling in "disappeared" bees – those that failed to return from food foraging trips. Further scientific evidencefollowed, (Gill et al in Nature) but the UK government has yet to follow France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia in suspending some of the pesticides. The neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in the world and are an industry worth billions of dollars a year.
A spokesman for Syngenta said:” When properly used no cases of bee mortality have been recorded."
A spokesman for Bayer Cropscience. "This study does not demonstrate that current agricultural practices damage bee colonies."
Both Bayer and Defra suggested other field studies had shown no harmful effects to bees.
“Well they would say that, wouldn’t they?” comes to mind.
Goulson said: "If they have done these studies, where are they? They are not in the public domain and therefore cannot be scrutinised. That raises the question of just how good they are."
Serious questions are now being asked about the adequacy of Europe's regulation of neonicotinoids which, for example, only considers the effects on honeybees, despite 90% of pollination being performed by different species, such as bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. The regime is even being questioned by the European Commission's own official advisers, which accepted in 2012 that "current 'simplistic' regulations contin 'major weaknesses". In 2013, we will see new reports from the UK parliament's Environment Audit Committee, new scientific evidence delivered to the UK government and a new analysis from the European Commission's advisers. Whether change follows remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the wildflower meadow in our park, and the other projects in Bristol and elsewhere, help to provide habitats to support many sorts of insects and other invertebrates.
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