In 2009, the WI passed a resolution on the decline of our honeybee population, calling for greater research in order to challenge this trend. The ‘SOS for Honeybee’ campaign that followed catalysed our members into action and brought the plight of the honeybee to the public consciousness.
We were delighted when the government announced the Insect Pollinator Initiative in 2010; a £10million funding pot dedicated to researching the important role that pollinators play, including honeybees, wild bees and solitary bees.
Despite this research, our bee population remains in crisis and, in recent months, bees have been in the headlines once again. This is largely in light of a growing body of evidence emerging on the impact that neonicotinoids – a type of systemic insecticide used in agriculture, as well as in the home – has on bee health and wellbeing. The reaction to this has been swift; several garden retailers have withdrawn products containing neonicotinoids from their shelves, and the European Commission has proposed imposing a partial restriction on their use in some applications and at certain times of the year.
This week the European Commission are putting their proposal to a vote of the EU member states and there is concern that the proposal will be blocked by three of the larger states – Britain being one of them.
The WI has always been an organisation to look to the future. From campaigning against oil pollution in the 1920s to the provision of breast cancer screening in the 1970s, we have always strived to consider the bigger picture. That is why I have written to the Secretary of State, urging him to support the European Commission’s proposals. Yes; there may be truth in claims that there are gaps in the current research available on neonicotinoids. And yes, we realise that there will be implications for our farming communities. Yet we do not approach this view lightly; we do so bearing in mind the huge impact that pollinator decline will have on our future generations – whether they end up being farmers, wildlife enthusiasts, or simply those who benefit from the fruits of our bees’ labour – which is pretty much everyone! We simply cannot stand still while our bee population, and the important pollination role that they play, slides into obscurity. Of course we accept that alone, the European Commission’s proposal will not present the magic bullet needed to stop the decline of bees. The challenge that bees face is multifaceted and this is widely acknowledged. But the fact remains that the evidence available on neonicotinoids paints a compelling picture on the contribution that they make to that decline. Even if restricting neonicotinoid use assuages this decline just a fraction, can we really afford not to take action?