More about bees


British black bee








In my last blog I used the global decline of bees as an example of the battles between ecologically and economically driven value systems. By coincidence a few days later the BBC showed an excellent programme called ‘What’s killing our bees?’

The programme was written and presented by Bill Turnbull, who as bee keeper and journalist asked good questions as to the causes of the bee decline, but typically with our media was then rather cautious as to making strong policy recommendations. 

The programme showed that, as we might expect, the issue is complex. Basically it argued that there are three main issues undermining bees: the varroa mite, pesticides and changes to agricultural practice, with the added short term problem of bad weather.

One interesting fact is that now urban beekeepers in cities like London and Paris are producing more and perhaps better quality honey than can be produced in the surrounding agricultural hinterlands. This it seems is due to the rich mix of flowering plants and lack of pesticides in cities, and also possibly partly due to the urban heat island effect. There was one interesting piece of research being done planting wild flower borders in arable fields which seemed to be having positive results.

Clearly many things need to change in order to protect the bees, on whose pollination services we are so dependent. I would like to see three areas of change: the banning of more of the most damaging pesticides, of which neonicotinoids are just the tip of the iceberg, a major shift from monocultures to polycultures including as many species of flowering plants as possible and the preservation and promotion of maximum genetic diversity in bee populations, especially of the British native black honeybee which due to its long adaptation to our climate seems more resistant to both varroa mites and bad weather than the generally kept European honeybee.