This lunchtime the EU has voted again on a proposal to ban the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides on flowering crops. Over the past few weeks, there have been arguments raging on both sides – conservations groups and beekeepers calling for a ban, while the chemical companies insist that their pesticides are safe (but at the same time agreeing that there needs to be more research into their effects in the field).
Despite public pressure, and scientific evidence of the negative impact these pesticides have on bees, the UK government has firmly backed the cause of the chemical companies, and is believed to have voted against the ban this time. Independent studies have shown links between neonicitinoid pesticides, reduced queen production in hives and disturbances to bee behaviour. Many scientists who work in this field of research (at least those not employed by Syngenta and Bayer…) were supporting the call for a ban. And the good news is that the ban has been approved and will come into force in December this year.
Even if these pesticides are linked to the observed declines in the numbers of bees, both managed and wild, the ban doesn’t of course mean that everything is now fine and that populations will recover. It’s complicated – there are so many other factors affecting insect populations – huge, huge amounts of habitat loss, lack of wild flowers, varroa mites, and in the shorter term, the rubbish weather we’ve had over the last year or so which has limited the time insects can be out there foraging. I know I’ve said this before – but as gardeners we really can help to make a difference. Plant nectar rich flowers – you know the ‘old fashioned’ cottage garden varieties, wildflowers or, if you’re brave enough, leave some weeds to flower. One thing to remember though if you are visiting a local garden centre to buy plants – these neonicotinoids are used to treat many seeds and bedding plants, and because they’re systemic they could be present in the plant you’re bringing home to attract bees. Buy plants that haven’t been treated with these chemicals – even better, buy organic and from a local grower! Then, if you have space in the garden, leave an area of longer grass – it’s a great habitat for bumblebee nests, and lots of other insects too. And (yes, I know I’m asking a lot) a shallow dish of water for drinking is much appreciated by insects too.
Let’s hope the interest in pollinator decline generated by the media coverage of the neonics issue will prove to be positive… and that our pollinating insects, which provide such an important service, will have a more secure future.
And if anyone out there is gardening for pollinators, or wildlife in general, I’d love to hear (and if you’re blogging, read) about it – let me know!