Monday, 22 June 2009

Native species of pollinators.."all sprayed-out".

In a previous post I attempted to give some reasons (as an unqualified observer) why agricultural pesticides seem to be the common denominator in the story of honeybee decline.Certain pesticides have been proven to be highly toxic to bees, and Peter Melchett of the Soil Association says that "The government prefers to blame 'very wet weather' and 'poor management by less experienced beekeepers' than to face their own responsibility to control bee-killing chemicals that have been used on up to 1.5 million acres of farmland in the UK.

In 12 different European countries 30-65% of bees are declining or threatened. This is accompanied by a tightly parallel process in plants, ( 70% decline). Since 1930 we have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows in the UK. Dr Biesmeijer, ecologist at Leeds University, speaks passionately about the importance of biodiversity and how this provides resiliency to climate change and weather extremes. He warns how all our native species of pollinators, not just honeybees, are threatened or have been anihilated by the loss of wild flowers and refuge nest sites. He refers to their habitat as "all sprayed out." The photographs above demonstrate the way many farmers, (encouraged by Defra) have obliterated hedges and flower rich field margins, to expand crop production. Dr Biesmeijer warns against agricultural practices which cause a vicious cycle of changes in pollination effecting the population of plants, and visa versa. .

Having reiterated a concern about pesticides, this post is about biodiversity and the value of all pollinating insects.There is now a popular movement among members of the public (encouraged by advice and information from the Co-op and National Bee Association) to try and compensate as much as possible for the practices of industrial agriculture, by establishing gardens which provide good habitat and nutrition for pollinating insects. Additionally many people are starting their own honeybee colonies.
(Insect pollinators include 25 species of bumblebee, 240 species of solitary bees and 250 species of hoverflies, as well as butterflies and bee flies which all maintain a diverse array of plants and flowers)

Pollinating insects are an insurance policy for our survival because they provide a diversity of responses to climate. Eg, the Red Mason Bee can remain alive in low temperatures, and this means certain crops are less vulnerable to climatic variations.
Ecologists are carrying out useful research in traditional fruit orchards. Unfortunately 60% of these orchards have disappeared since the 1950's, putting local varieties of apples, cherries, pears, plums and damsons under threat. But this is a particularly sad tale because they provide important habitats for a range of species. Trees in traditional orchards are widely spaced and the sites are often grazed by animals such as sheep, or cut for hay. They provide good habitat for wildlife because they are subject to low intensity management, with few or no chemicals used, and the trees are allowed to reach a stage where they are hollowed and gnarled. Researchers have discovered that many pollinating insects fly in the high canopy of these fruit trees.

The print at the top of this page shows a modern orchard being treated with pesticides.(next to my house) The hedge in the foreground is 12ft high. Beyond the hedge, the spray is blasted well above the tops of the fruit trees. This graphically demonstrates why nothing can survive in modern orchards, and believe it or not, just to make absolutely sure, the ground under the fruit trees is periodically sprayed with fungicides. This is why fruit farmers depend on the professional beekeepers to provide a supply of bees to pollinate between pesticide sprayings.( As a neighbour to this farmer I'm definitely getting a raw deal.I supply his orchards with a rich source of pollinators from my garden, while he supplies my air with toxic chemicals)

Likewise in Italy, apple production is very intensive. In orchards which are situated on high ground nearer to forests, wild bees do the job.In valleys they have to import honeybees.
In 2007, the British government prioritised orchards as habitat to protect in recognition of their importance to wildlife. It is soul-destroying to know that, since joining the EU, many East European countries are destroying their traditional orchards in favour of intensive fruit production.

For anyone who is interested in the subject of bee declines and related information, there is a good, detailed article called "A Sting in the Tail" on the website

1 comment:

Jamblichus said...

So you get that sprayed over your hedge on a regular basis? Where I grew up (Kent) we had a similar problem, but around 100 feet away across a small road and hedge. Out of curiosity, is there any form of redress you can take for this, or is the farmer required to tell you when he sprays? Has the Georgina Downs case directly affected those like you living close to crop spraying? I'd like to know more. Feel free to contact me by email if you're so inclined: