What’s the buzz? Don’t forget to tell the bees!

The hand of a beekeeper can be seen holding part of a hive, nearly all covered by bees.
Busy bees, now starting to emerge sleepily from their hives, are under threat. Photo credit: Bianca Ackermann, Unsplash

This is the first of two articles about the threat to bees posed by the re-introduction of insecticides. In the first article, a bee-keeper writes:

Mid-January and the weather is wintry at last, with frosty nights giving way to foggy dawns which promise little but, in the last week, have turned into sparkling days where the sun feels warm and the light lasts just that little bit longer each afternoon. The bees have certainly felt it and are starting to emerge sleepily from keeping warm in their hives.  Each queen will be starting to lay and some of the young newly hatched bees are looking to life beyond the hive as they embark on ‘play flights’.

It is still too early in the year for blossom or many flowers but young bees, like any living being, are enticed out into the fresh air. We stock up their stores with fondant in the top of the hive which also encourages the queen to lay, and with words of encouragement (for you must always chat to your bees) we retreat into the warm for crumpets spread thickly with last year’s honey, as we gaze at yet another golden sunset over the downs. 

If only we could leave it there: the rural idyll, the changing seasons and the changeless rhythms of life, ordered and on the whole predictable, notwithstanding the odd side ball thrown by mother nature – a terrible storm, a late frost or a poor summer. 

But we can’t, because our bees are once more facing an existential threat to their very existence. 

Go-ahead for use of harmful neonicotinoids

For a second year running the powers-that-be, in the form of George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, have given permission for neonicotinoids (“neo-nics”)to be used to control aphids on sugar beet. 

This, despite the Health & Safety Executive and the government’s pesticide committee’s conclusion that the threat from aphids was not certain and that run off containing pesticide residue would pollute rivers and threaten bees’ lives. 

This, despite the fact that these vicious chemicals were banned by the European Union and indeed banned by Michael Gove in 2018, legislation hailed by beekeepers and bees alike as enlightened but also essential to preserve our pollinating insects. 

No matter that last year, permission to use Cruiser SB was withdrawn at the last minute as a harsh winter had reduced the aphid numbers.  No matter that this might happen again this year.  The very existence of these pesticides, and the willingness of our so-called green leaning government to use them, is a sword of Damocles being held over our bees, both wild and domestic, other insects and our countryside.

Bees are attracted to what is not good for them

So, what to do?  Firstly, beekeepers like myself should warn our bees by encouraging them to forage in safe places.  So, it’s important not to plant wild flowers on the edge of sugar beet fields or allow them to flourish on land that was once full of sugar beet.  These chemicals are systemic and get drawn up from the soil by a variety of plants. 

The pesticides will affect bees’ very nervous systems and ruin their amazing ability to find their way home from a distance of three miles.  Unfortunately, this stuff is addictive, and whilst we understand that pollen might be more attractive with a good side helping of thiamethoxam, this is not good for them.  Bees need to be discouraged from foraging in pesticide-treated areas and from telling their mates, using that well known bee dance known as the waggle.  

Then we will continue to campaign against this cynical government, holding them to account for promises made, and often swerved, about a green revival, about the countryside, about tree planting, about our rivers and our seas and right now about the use of dangerous pesticides. Because, as Michael Gove said, “The risk is greater than previously understood… We cannot afford to put our pollinator populations at risk”.

Finally, we will shout from wherever we keep our bees, from our city gardens and allotments, from our villages, from our rooftops (yes, we kept bees on the roof), in the words of Greta Thunberg, “How dare you, how dare you!”

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