Our relationship with bees

Laura Atkinson from LESS explores the role of bees in this week’s local food column…

The Faces Behind Our Food

Last year on Lancaster’s high street we were pestered by people in  black and yellow outfits ‘trying’ to talk to us about the importance  of bees. Most of us told them to buzz off, for these insects and their  role in food production is not always appreciated by us humans.

Bees, in a nutshell, help plants to produce the next generation of  seeds in a process called pollination. One third of UK crops depend  on pollination, and without it crop yields would drop. Farmers can  pollinate plants manually but this is a slow, labour intensive and  an expensive process. Bees, by contrast, are the most economically  valuable pollinator on the planet. Managed hives are cheap,  versatile and ensure crops are pollinated.

Wild bees and honeybees are the two main types of bee that pollinate our food. The British Beekeeping Association (BBKA) claims by planting perennials, flowering trees and bulbs that flower all year round, we can help bees thrive. These can be planted in your garden or even a window box.

In agriculture, humans have increased the area of agricultural land and therefore land that requires pollination. This overuses bees as the demand for pollination is way above the current capacity of bee populations, according to a paper in the Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment journal. We can therefore support bee population by conserving bee habitat and by STOPPING activities that are degrading bee habitats. We can ST0P using neonicotinoids.

Neonictinoids are a group of pesticides that have been used across the world for the past 20 years. Unlike other pesticides, neonicotinoids are taken up by the plant and are transported to all plant tissues, including the pollen. This is where it comes in contact with the bees. The toxins weaken bees, making them more susceptible to parasites such as the Varroa mite. The neonicotinoids last several weeks in plants with only one application. More and more studies are highlighting the impact these toxins have on bee populations, resulting in in bans of their use in France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia, but not the UK…

Greenpeace has started a petition to ban bee-harming pesticides and unsustainable industrial farming practices. So far they have had 534,674 signatures. With more signatures, pressure is put on local councils and the UK government to acknowledge the issues associated with industrial farming. This will hopefully result in the decision on the use of neonicotinoids being re-examined.

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