Report: the Bee Action Plan Summit, 28 June 2013
The Bee Summit was organised by Friends of the Earth, together with the Women’s Institute, Waitrose and the Co-operative Group. I attend on behalf of CEL.
“Bees are in trouble, a third of all honey bee colonies in England were lost over this past winter – the worst figures since records began.” conference introduction
The meeting brought together many bee experts with the the aim of accelerating the creation of a National Bee Action Plan.
Dr Lynn Dicks of the Conservation Science Group, Cambridge University told of how a colony of fairy footed flower bees were lost when someone demolished an old garage wall – we should take greater care of bee habitats. Bumble bee species have declined by 40% whilst moth and butterfly numbers are down 70%. Suggestions for remediating this decline:
- increase resources for wild pollinators
- pollination as a service needs to be properly valued
- monitor wild pollinators ie bees and hover flies (cost approx £76000 p.a. – not huge)
- rather than banning individual pesticides, reduce all pesticides and look at integrated pest management.
Quentin Clark, Head of Sustainabilty and Ethical Sourcing at Waitrose, said there are many factors at work causing the decline in bee populations: parasites, habitat loss and degredation, weather, pests, pesticides etc. A hollistic approach is needed. Waitrose’s own approach is precautionary. They support the EU ban of neonecotinoids avoiding them in the farming of their fruit and veg. On their own farms they audit bees and pollination activity. They think organic farming is very important. Finally taking an open science approach they have launched a “bee app” so individuals can report the GPS of pollination activities they witness.
Dr Andrea Graham, Chief Land Management Advisor of the National Farmers Union, stressed the need for a robust science based approach to bee health and whilst there have been many studies into the decline of bee populations, none of them considered what was happening over time. As part of this approach the NFU encourages bee keepers to sign up to BEE BASE so they keep records. To date 30,000 have signed.
More generally farmers need to work with bee farmers and look at issues like the siting of hives, and the use of buffer land to provide pollinator plants. Although there was a dramatic decline in biodiversity between the 50s and 80s, the decline of biodiversity in bees has slowed since the 90s. She ended with the plea that farmers and land managers must work together for future sustainability.
Chris Shearlock, Sustainable Development Manager of the Co-operative Group talked of working over four areas: pesticides, farms, research and co-op members. The 98% loss in flower meadows in the UK needs tackling, to this end they are growing wild flowers on the field margins of their farms – he claims once established this can result in 14 times more pollinator activity and better habitats for bees. There is a need to work on a ‘landscape scale’, the work of Bug Life who are mapping channels for pollinators to move over motorways etc, is really encouraging. The Co-op have also given may packs of seeds to its members to enable them to grow more pollinator plants.
Craig Bennett, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Friends of the Earth said now was the time to reawaken the public’s interest in nature and starting with Bees, FoE has had a huge success with 100,000 supporters and about one third of MPs signed up to the ‘Bee Cause’ He then outlined FoEs seven point Bee Action Plan
- Create a Government-wide strategy beyond current policies, builing on existing research and civil society action
- Cover all causes of bee decline and all bee species and other insect pollinators
- Targetted action for protection and expnansion of habitats and threatened species
- Involve all people
- On schedule
- co-ordinated nationally
- Set standards which can be adopted internationally.
And finally Lord Rupert de Mauley, Environment Minister gave his support for the Action Plan and announced a report on the initial assessment of the situation leading towards a National Pollinator Strategy.
I then spent some time in a round table discussion about how to improve town environments for bees – a lively time, much interest in flowers on grass verges, open space, private gardens, railway land, church yards etc.
Poppy Pickard, 3 July 20013