The majority of the public think councils should be doing more to save bees, a Friends of the Earth survey reveals today.
A total of 81% of people polled thought councils should reduce grass-cutting in an effort to let more wildflowers grow to boost pollinator populations, while nearly two thirds (63%) of people said councils should be doing more to protect bees.
The Friends of the Earth and Buglife YouGov survey also revealed 88% support councils reducing the use of bee-harming pesticides while 92% support local authorities in planting more wildflowers and other bee-friendly plants in local parks and community spaces.
The event brings together key individuals and bodies to review science of bee decline, review progress on national pollinator strategies, celebrate achievements and identify problem areas.
It will also look at local authorities’ strategies for pollinators.
Cutting less grass would cut council costs
Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said: “Local councils have a vital part to play in helping the UK’s under-threat bee populations. Policies, such as allowing grass to grow on roadside verges, will help bees, save cash-strapped councils money and are supported by the public too.
“We hope many more councils will stand up for our bees and introduce comprehensive pollinator action plans in the months ahead.”
Dr Paul Evans, Lead Pollinator Advisor at Buglife, said: “We are not advocating abandoning areas of council land but introducing a new less intensive form of grassland management.
“Effectively cutting grass less in the right places will not only help to counter pollinator decline it will benefit wildlife and people too.”
The move would be good news for cash-strapped local authorities, with councils already saving thousands of pounds every year by reducing grass-cutting.
Burnley Borough Council estimates that savings from meadow management (including reducing grass-cutting to benefit wildlife) are £58,000 per annum – and are expected to increase.
Dorset County Council also estimates significant savings have been made from wildlife-friendly policies, such as allowing grass to grow.
Peter Moore, of Dorset County Council, which introduced a pollinator action plan that includes less grass-cutting, said: “Dorset County Council adopted a new strategy for managing highway verges in 2014. We have a more targeted approach to the cutting we do.
“We estimate this has saved us £100,000 over the last 2 years, with a further £50,000 in savings anticipated in 2017-18.
“A significant amount of this saving is due to reducing the frequency of cutting, showing that pollinator-friendly approaches can save money too.”
Mr Moore, who is Dorset County Council’s Environment Service Director, will address the Bee Summit today.
Councils must develop pollinator action plans
Despite all the publicity about bee decline only a handful of councils – including Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, East Sussex and Bristol – have introduced comprehensive pollinator action plans.
To help local authorities play their part in boosting bee populations, Buglife and Friends of the Earth have produced a new guide on the measures they can take to help pollinators.
‘Helping Pollinators Locally – Developing a Local Pollinator Action Plan’ is published today at the Bee Summit.
It spells out some of the policies councils could adopt, including:
- Using the planning system to protect and increase pollinator-friendly habitat.
- Managing council-owned or council-managed land to benefit pollinators including: cutting areas of grass in parks and roadside verges less often to allow wild flowers to grow.
- Reducing the use of bee-harming pesticides; planting more wildflowers and other bee-friendly plants in local parks and community spaces.
- Raising awareness and encouraging others to act by working with schools, businesses, local communities and individuals to help develop flower-rich environments.
Kids everywhere may revel in the fact that bees are no longer stinging them as frequently on playgrounds and in backyards, but the decline in honeybee populations in the U.S. and elsewhere signals a major environmental imbalance that could have far-reaching implications for our agricultural food supply.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HONEYBEES
Brought here from Europe in the 1600s, honeybees have become widespread across North America and are bred commercially for their abilities to produce honey and pollinate crops—90 different farm-grown foods, including many fruits and nuts, depend on honeybees.
But in recent years honeybee populations across the continent have plummeted by as much as 70 percent, and biologists are still scratching their heads as to why and what to do about the problem which they have termed “colony collapse disorder” (CCD).
CHEMICALS MAY BE KILLING THE HONEYBEES
Many believe that our increasing use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, which honeybees ingest during their daily pollination rounds, are largely to blame. Of particular concern is a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. Commercial beehives are also subjected to direct chemical fumigation at regular intervals to ward off destructive mites. Genetically modified crops were once a suspect, but there is no clear evidence of a link between them and CCD.
It may be that the build-up of synthetic chemicals has reached a “tipping point,” stressing bee populations to the point of collapse. Lending credence to this theory is that organic bee colonies, where synthetic pesticides are mostly avoided, are not experiencing the same kind of catastrophic collapses, according to the non-profit Organic Consumers Association.
RADIATION MAY PUSH HONEYBEES OFF COURSE
Bee populations may also be vulnerable to other factors, such as the recent increase in atmospheric electromagnetic radiation as a result of growing numbers of cell phones and wireless communication towers. The increased radiation given off by such devices may interfere with bees’ ability to navigate.
A small study at Germany’s Landau University found that bees would not return to their hives when mobile phones were placed nearby, but it is thought that the conditions in the experiment do not represent real-world exposure levels.
GLOBAL WARMING PARTLY TO BLAME FOR HONEYBEE DEATHS?
Biologists also wonder if global warming may be exaggerating the growth rates of pathogens such as the mites, viruses, and fungi that are known to take their toll on bee colonies. The unusual hot-and-cold winter weather fluctuations in recent years, also blamed on global warming, may also be wreaking havoc on bee populations accustomed to more consistent seasonal weather patterns.
SCIENTISTS STILL SEARCHING FOR CAUSE OF HONEYBEE COLONY COLLAPSE DISORDER
A recent gathering of leading bee biologists yielded no consensus, but most agree that a combination of factors is likely to blame. “We’re going to see a lot of money poured into this problem,” says University of Maryland entomologist Galen Dively, one of the nation’s leading bee researchers. He reports that the federal government plans an allocation of $80 million to fund research in connection with CCD. “What we’re looking for,” Dively says, “is some commonality which can lead us to a cause.”
The extermination of 15,000 honey bees in Anglesey by council pest control officers who mistook the rare black bees for wasps is an unhappy accident. The fact it has made the news shows a society slowly coming to its senses.
Most of us get the idea that without bees and other pollinating insects, human life would rapidly collapse. Those of us who have lived long enough remember the “moth snowstorm” (the phrase is Mike McCarthy’s) that smattered car windscreens on summer nights, and worry about its absence.
Just as we awoke to the “silent spring” of toxic pesticides that erased wildlife in the 1960s, we are awaking to the probability that neonicotinoids, ingenious pesticides that have boosted agricultural crop yields over the last 20 years, are destroying insect life far more ruthlessly than the most devoted pest controller.
Last week came the latest irrefutable evidence from the world’s largest ever field trial, funded by pesticide manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta. It showed that honey bee survival was reduced by exposure to the insecticides. Another study found that bees collect contaminated pollen from wildflowers, which take up water-soluble neonicotinoids – demonstrating wider environmental contamination.
Entomologists point out that honey bees are one of the most robust flying insects. So neonics are likely to be obliterating less tough, less well-monitored insect life.
Debates have a tipping point, where one side’s entrenched position is so overwhelmed by evidence to the contrary that it becomes preposterous. Pesticide industry denials now look absurd. The extra questions that always emerge from solid science cannot be deployed as a delaying tactic for ever. Even cancer-denying cigarette manufacturers eventually twigged.
The European Union banned neonics on flowering crops in 2014, but neonicotinoids are still widely used on non-flowering crops. We need a total ban, now, to halt both the obliteration of insect life and the sabotaging of our own best interests.
Click here to be taken to an extensive list of flowers visited by north American bees and European bumblebees. The most important thing to understand in planting flowers for bumblebees is that they need flowers throughout the season. Unlike honey bees they do not have a large store of honey in their nests, but just enough to last a few days. I have split the flowers into early, summer and late flowers, but this will vary according to where you live.
- Early flowers. When the queens emerge in the spring flowers such as spring flowering heathers, crocuses, primroses, aubrietia, comfrey, lungwort, pieris, rhododendron, bugle, cornflower, broom, poppies any flowering currants and vetches and peas are very useful. They will also gather pollen from hazels and willow catkins and early flowering fruit trees. A dense patch of heather will serve as a shelter in times when the weather changes suddenly. In my garden we let the heather flop over a low wall. The stone absorbs heat during the day and gives it out at night, so in the morning that patch is always full of slow moving queens with just enough energy to climb up the stems to drink their breakfast from the flowers. In the early days of the nest it is estimated that a Bombus terrestris queen may have to visit as many as 6000 flowers per day in order to get enough nectar to maintain the heat needed to brood her eggs. And during every foraging trip the brood will cool down, so the trips should be short. This is why it is vital that the nest is located close to rewarding flowers.
- Summer flowers. In general most cottage garden type of flowers are useful to bumblebees such as Indian balsam, Phacalia, viper’s bugloss, geraniums, aquilegia, lupins, campanulas, as well as brambles, raspberry, strawberry and other soft fruits, and many herbs such as the different varieties of thyme, marjoram, sage, and borage. Old-fashioned roses provide a good source of pollen, you can hear them gathering pollen from some flowers as they sonicate the anthers to dislodge the pollen. This is a higher sounding buzz than usual. Many flowers especially bred for showy displays do not have nectar, for example some nasturtiums are nectar-free, normally these provide a large amount of nectar per flower and so are very useful. And double-flowered varieties may or may not produce nectar, but the extra petals often make it too difficult to reach. Foxgloves are used by the longer tongued bees not only for nectar but also as a place to shelter during sudden showers, but some of the more showy ones have flowers that do not open properly.
- Late flowers. Lavenders and salvias are useful later in the year, actually most of the herbs used by cooks are used by bumblebees. Honeysuckle is also very valuable as it provides a rich supply of nectar.
Bumblebees are mainly under threat because of changes to the countryside in the UK. Changes in agricultural techniques have meant that there are far fewer wildflowers in the landscape than there used to be, meaning that many of our bumblebee species are struggling to survive.
The dramatic decline in populations of most species, and the extinction of two species in the UK, show that something needs to be done.
Causes of bumblebee declines
When we think of the British countryside, we often think of rolling green fields with crops or livestock. However, it wasn’t always this way. Until relatively recently, the British landscape was much more colourful. The fields had many more wildflowers, and these supported a much greater diversity of wildlife.
However, technology and demand for increased food production meant that traditional agricultural practises were abandoned in favour of techniques which increased productivity but ultimately reduced the abundance of wildflowers in the countryside. Indeed, it has been estimated that we have lost 97% of our flower-rich grassland since the 1930s. As bees rely entirely upon flowers for food, it is unsurprising that their populations began to rapidly decline in most places.
The result of this has been that two species have become extinct in the UK since the start of the 20th century:
- Cullem’s bumblebee (Bombus cullumanus), was last recorded in 1941.
- The Short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus), was last recorded in 1988.
Both of these species are still found in Europe, but the British populations may have been specially adapted to our climate and environment. Sadly, several other bumblebee species are in trouble, and could become extinct in the UK within a short time. Two species in particular, the Great yellow bumblebee and the Shrill carder bee, are now only present in small numbers.
Impact of bumblebee declines
It is well-known that bumblebees are great pollinators, and therefore have a key role in producing much of the food that we eat. Through the pollination of many commercial crops such as tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries, insects are estimated to contribute over £400 million per annum to the UK economy and €14.2 billion per annum to the EU economy. If bumblebee and other insect pollinator declines continue, the extremely high cost of pollinating these plants by other means could significantly increase the cost of fruit and vegetables.
Bumblebees also help pollinate many wildflowers, allowing them to reproduce. Without this pollination many of these plants would not produce seeds, resulting in declines in wildflowers. As these plants are often the basis of complex food chains, it is easy to imagine how other wildlife such as other insects, birds and mammals would all suffer if bees disappeared.
There’s due concern about the fact that bumble bees are dying in the United States as well as other parts of the world. Researchers are baffled by the phenomenon because there seems to be no clear evidence which explains why the population of bumble bees is declining. In the commercial sense, bumble bees in the United States pollinate approximately 15 percent of all crops, which translates to about $3 billion dollars annually. Let’s take a closer look at this mysterious phenomenon.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, four species of bumble bees have been found to suffer alarming population declines of up to 96 percent. These species are Bombus affinis, Bombus occidentalis, Bombus pensylvanicus, and Bombus terricola. According to University of Illinois entomologist Sydney A. Cameron, the geographic range of these species has also declined by about 23 to 87 percent. Some other declining species include the Bombus franklini, Bombus fervidus, Bombus sonorus, and Bombus californicus.
To learn more about bumble bees, it’s necessary to know about their life cycle. Towards the end of autumn, the mated young queen bees search for a safe place to hibernate. The hibernation period extends into spring until the arrival of early warm days. The queens buzz around budding bulbs and flowers to find nectar and pollen, which is turned into honey to be fed to the hatching brood. At this time, the queen will also search for a place to build a nest. The queen begins a new nest by laying eggs into a ball of pollen and wax. After the eggs hatch, the queen adds to the nest while the grubs grow to become worker bees. The worker bees help to build the nest as the queen stays in the nest to lay more eggs. Once summer arrives, the queen lays eggs which would become the next cycle’s queen bees and drones. After mating with the future queens, the drones fly off, leaving the future queens in the mother colony. Towards the end of autumn, the old queen, the drones, and the worker bees would die, leaving the mated young queen bees to hibernate, and begin another cycle.
Some of the known threats to bumble bee populations include climate change, invasive species, habitat destruction, pollution, pesticides, and most significantly, the spread of diseases and pests through the commercial rearing of bumble bees. It’s hypothesized that the shipping of Bombus occidentalis and Bombus impatiens queens to European rearing facilities from 1992 to 1994 resulted in the acquisition of the microsporidian Nosema bombi, a virulent strain common in the European Bombus terrestris. The Nosema bombi fungus was found in a high number of the threatened bumble bee species. Research findings on the DNA of these species revealed that the bees have low genetic diversity which makes them more vulnerable to environmental pressures and other pathogens.