No, bees are not dying out. No, their populations are not being harmed by neonicotinoid pesticides. No, farmers are not wiping out all the wildflower meadows which allow insects to flourish.
But this is not something you ever hear about it in the media, obsessed as it is with the doom narrative fed to them by green activist bodies like Friends of the Earth.
That’s why I heartily recommend the excellent speech that Matt Ridley has just given in the House of Lords:
Globally, there have never been more hives of honey bees; there are about 90 million in the world compared with about 60 million 50 years ago. In Europe and the UK, too, we are near to a record number of hives. There are of course continuing problems with Varroa mites, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, and Nosema and other pests, but there is no evidence of a decline in honey bees. It is true that there was colony collapse disorder 12 years ago, mostly in the United States, but it was a brief episode and is now reckoned to have been something to do with diseases or pests, not farming.
Presumably, that is why the opponents of neonicotinoids stopped talking about honey bees a few years ago and started talking more about wild bees. But where is the evidence that any decline in wild bees is recent or related to pesticides rather than to land management and habitat change? One recent study found that wild bees declined significantly before 1990 because of agricultural intensification but that the decline has since ceased or possibly reversed.
I am sure the Minister is aware of an important study published in Nature in 2015 that was conducted by 58 researchers across five continents. It found that,
“the species that are the dominant crop pollinators are the most widespread and abundant species in agricultural landscapes in general”.
It found that only about 2% of wild bee species are responsible for 80% of the crop pollination performed by wild bees. These are of course the wild bees that would come most into contact with neonicotinoid pesticides, yet the study finds that these 2% of species are actually ones that are thriving. Is the Minister also aware that leaf-cutter bees, which should be especially vulnerable to neonics because they eat leaves and because they are non-social, are thriving in neonic-treated canola fields in North America? Indeed they are used as commercial pollinators in western Canada.
I turn to the neonicotinoid issue. Neonicotinoids can kill bees; of course they can. They are insecticides—the clue is in the name—so lab studies showing that they can kill or harm bees are beside the point. Every farming system, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, uses pesticides, even organic systems—neem oil, nicotine, spinosad, pyrethrin and copper sulphate are all used on organic farms. So it is a question of which insecticides do the least harm to non-target insects such as bees. Here, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, said, neonicotinoids have one advantage over their main alternative, pyrethroids: they are almost always used as seed dressings, not sprays, so only an insect that eats the plant gets poisoned. When I raised some of these points with an official from Defra, I was told that the persistence of neonics in the soil is a new worry that we have to take into account. However, I have researched the literature and can find no evidence to support that point, so I would be grateful if the Minister could enlighten me on it. Is he also aware that some 18 major field studies and nine review articles published over 10 years have overwhelmingly shown that under realistic conditions neonicotinoids have no effect on honey bees at the hive level, and that the EU’s bee guidance document was effectively constructed so that tier 3 field studies, which show no negative effects at the hive level, have been discounted or dismissed?
On my own farm we stopped using insecticide sprays almost entirely after the introduction of neonicotinoid seed dressings. We also stopped using slug pellets because, again, neonics are good for protection against slugs. We may now have to go back to using both to prevent slug damage and to prevent barley yellow dwarf virus, which is spread by aphids. If so, we will be using pyrethroids, which are probably worse. Even the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety—ANSES—says that of the 130 uses for neonics, 89% will be replaced by other pesticides, often pyrethroids
Ridley, an Oxford-trained zoologist, farmer, and science writer, knows whereof he speaks. But he is up against the Green Blob – and the Green Blob is huge.
All the relevant UK government departments – Energy and Climate Change; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; etc; all the campaign groups; all the advisory bodies; most university departments; the entirety of the European Union; and most international regulatory bodies are controlled by green ideologues for whom sound science and sensible cost-benefit analysis are irrelevant to their anti-human, anti-business, anti-technology environmental agenda.
Environmentalism has much more to do with virtue-signalling than it does with serious, practical attempts to solve the world’s genuine environmental problems.
People who genuinely care about nature need to wise up and stop buying into the green movement’s bullshit.