Spread bee love, not pesticides

Today the two-year ban on neonicotinoid pesticides begins in the European Union. To mark the occasion I thought I’d share some of the bee concerns associated with the use of pesticides and share some ideas for ways we might lessen their impact on the environment and on our bees.

A few weeks ago I went to a lecture by Dave Goulson, a conservationist who founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. He talked about Neonicotinoid pesticides, which are a group of synthetic chemicals highly toxic to insects and are used as a coating for agricultural seeds and in pot plants. He reported how the use of these pesticides is having a negative affect on the health and habitats of our bees and revealed that the agrochemical industries are disguising the field evidence so they can carry on making big ££££££ introducing lethal amounts of the stuff into our soil.

This is a sketch copying one of his lecture slides, which shows what happens to the chemical when seeds that are pre-treated with ‘neos’ are planted. Most of the pesticide simply stays in the soil and remains there for 4 years. So why are the EU only banning them for two years you might ask? Even after two years, the pesticides will still be in the soil?

neonicotinoids sketch

There is now concern that with the absence of neos farmers will need to use higher concentrations of alternative (potentially as lethal) sprayed pesticides on crops rather than pre-applied neo crop seeds to keep up with the huge demands on food production. I would argue that any use of pesticides is incredibly harmful. We are now beginning to understand the effects these substances have on our bees but we do not understand the long-term effects they have on our soil, our food, mammals, waterways, marine environments and the human body.

So exactly how do these substances affect bees?

Direct wind blown exposure to neos will instantly kill a bee. Diluted amounts of the stuff cause bees to become confused, have difficulty navigating, suffer lower resistance to disease and experience reduced queen production. If a bumblebee does not make it back to its nest or a honeybee gets lost and can’t locate its hive, they will die. Worker bees out foraging like this worker honeybee visiting some rapeseed are responsible for feeding whole colonies with the nectar and pollen they collect and if they are lost, the food is lost. Without a queen, bees will not survive.

Honeybee on rapeseed

So all in all it did not look great and I came away from the lecture feeling a bit lost. However, there are ways on a local level that we can all do our bit to help. As gardeners, or friends and family of gardeners, we can all play our part in helping keep our soil chemical free by being careful what we use on our own land. As bees will forage for miles, as long as the amount of insecticides and pesticides they come into contact with are kept to a minimum then there is hope that the dose will not become lethal to whole colonies of bees. So if a bee was to visit 5 organic gardens and 2 that have used pesticides then the effects of the chemicals to the bee are greatly minimized.

So what shouldn’t we be using on our gardens?? I went to my local garden centre and local B&Q to see what they were selling. I found shelves of brightly coloured sprayed pesticides for us all to use freely on our gardens. Looking more closely I found some rather alarming risk and safety information repeated on each and every product. Many of these products state instructions such as ‘Apply away from bees and fish’ and ‘High risk to bees’. How can you apply a garden spray away from bees?


Apply away from bees

One product, the Bayer Garden Provado Ultimate Bug Killer is even offering free seeds for bees. Given that the gardener buying this product will be using their Ultimate Bug Killer, I’d say there’s a strong possibility that the bees feeding on the flowers from these seeds will also come into contact with the bug killer. This is what is reads on the back of this product under ‘Environmental protection’ …

Provado Ultimate Bug KillerIt seems mad to me that these products are available to buy so easily when they are so dangerous to the environment. I found this great website that offers lots of non toxic solutions for getting rid of various unwanted beings we may encounter in and around our homes;