A pesticide ban is necessary to protect our essential bee population - but it is not enough

Bee and pink flower

A bee at the permaculture garden at Tapeley Park in Devon. 

The Ecologist
The decline of honey bees in the UK has been well documented. Is it a demonstration of climate change and, if so, what can be done? QUENTIN SCOTT, director at renewable energy investment company Low Carbon, discusses how it has partnered with Plan Bee to educate communities and support biodiversity

Despite the right placement and trained beekeepers on-site, the hives have mirrored the findings of the British Beekeepers Association.

The humble honey bee has had a rough time over the last few years. Of course, it’s not alone.

Researchers at Sussex University recently published findings that the number of flying insects in German nature reserves have dramatically fallen in the last 25 years, to the extent that Professor Dave Coulson, the research leader, described the decline as “horrific” and a path to “ecological Armageddon.” A very sobering thought.

The decline in the bee population in the UK has been heavily documented. Most recently, the British Beekeepers Association revealed their members were producing, on average, a kilogramme less honey per hive than last year.

Educate the population

It’s been suggested that the widespread use of pesticides is a significant factor in the decline of the bee population. And, thankfully, some respite could be on the horizon, at least in terms of pesticide use, with Michael Gove, the environment secretary insisting the UK will back proposals for a total ban on insect-harming pesticides across Europe.

That respite is much needed. Three quarters of food crops are dependent on pollination, particularly by bees and other insects. And we’re severely lacking in pollinators, presenting profound risks to our food security.

But pesticides aren’t and cannot be the only factor for the decline of the honey bee. Climate change is also a factor, for which we, collectively, are at fault. This is further compounded by the impact of construction and development, coupled with environmental changes that have seen the UK lose 98 percent of its flower meadows (and potential habitats for bees) in the last 70 years.

The humble honey bee is simply being pushed out. That is a problem that won’t be addressed solely by a pesticide ban – as welcome as it might be - but rather by continual effort and education. And this is where partnerships are essential.

Two years ago, Low Carbon partnered with Plan Bee, which helps support biodiversity and sustainability projects across the UK. We discussed how we could help educate the population of the dangers of climate change, and how we could promote better sustainability of the honey bee population and biodiversity.

Activity levels

The answer was to establish hives across solar parks around the UK, focusing particularly on areas in Cornwall, Dorset and Suffolk. Housing more than two million bees, the intention was to provide a much-needed habitat for honey bees, support the recovery of their numbers, and to use the honey produced as a resource help educate on the threats facing honey bee populations.

Yet, even this type of partnership is seeing the effects of the honey bee’s plight. Despite the right placement and trained beekeepers on-site, the hives have mirrored the findings of the British Beekeepers Association. Evidence certainly of the profound environmental factors – climate change included – affecting the bee population.

Despite the right placement and trained beekeepers on-site, the hives have mirrored the findings of the British Beekeepers Association.

The situation facing the bee population is - and must be considered - grave. It’s frankly something the public needs to grasp the implications of in full. A dwindling bee population isn’t just bad news for those fans of honey on toast or on porridge for breakfast. It’s far more profound.

A wider decline in insect populations and reduced numbers of pollinators is critical to the food chain. It’s premature to consider this a crisis of global proportions, but that’s where we could be headed – longstanding and widespread food shortages caused by a lack of crop pollination.

The answer is, again, education and the establishment and maintenance of sustainability partnerships to develop bee hives and ensure they can survive.

Supermarket shelves

In the case of our solar farm hives, we’re installing real-time monitoring technology, which will provide more information about the bee populations, their health and activity levels and will enable intervention more rapid intervention if there is an imminent threat to the wellbeing of the hives.

Linked to the issue of public education is ensuring there is a clear correlation between the plight of the honey bee and other insects and climate change.

The Government’s commitment to a ban on insect-harming pesticides is extremely welcome, but without constant and supportive action to tackle climate change, the difficulties of the honey bee will sadly continue.

That’s not good for nature. And it’s certainly not good for us, thinking of what we expect to see on our supermarket shelves.

This Author

Quentin Scott is a Director at Low Carbon, a privately-owned renewable investment company that has funded the development of  more than 320MW of solar farms across the UK.