Let’s get busy on bees

Recent years have seen a worrying decline in the number of bees.

Though some bumblebee and solitary bee species are doing well and have increased their distribution in Britain, the overall picture is of a disturbing drop in the population, particularly among honey bees.

And in terms of food supply alone, let alone the wider quality of life, we need bees. They pollinate 75% of our most vital crops and favourite foods.  So we should all be concerned about the increase in bee mortality.

There is a wide consensus among the scientific community that there is no single explanation for the decrease. It is likely to be due to a combination of factors, including parasites and viruses, exposure to pesticides, as well as beekeeping practices.

Last year the European Parliament agreed a Resolution on Honeybee Health which called on the Commission to increase scientific research on honeybee health, improve the availability of veterinary medicines against bee pests and diseases, and improve beekeepers’ husbandry skills.

All of that is vital, but the EU can also legislate and there are opportunities over the next few months, as proposed reforms to Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy come before Parliament.

It is crucial that ways are found whereby farmers across the EU manage their land in a way that provides the food and habitats that bees need, because there is little doubt that the loss of biodiversity, leading to a lack of adequate nectar and pollen, is a major factor in the dwindling numbers.

That’s why Labour MEPs are supporting greater use of what are called Agri-Environment Schemes (AES).

These schemes have already helped improve bee numbers on farms using a variety of targeted measures, from the simple sowing and maintenance of areas of flowering plants associated with bees, to the more complex creation and management of meadows, species-rich grassland and heathland, habitats that provide high quality forage and nesting resources to bees.

Schemes which are bee-friendly, however, are just a part of a new approach which Labour MEPs are fighting for.

European Commission proposals on the CAP simply do not go far enough, and my colleague Brian Simpson MEP, Labour’s spokesperson on agriculture in the Parliament, has put down a number of amendments, and we will continue calling for ambitious green reform.

Such reform will not only ensure that during these difficult economic times taxpayers’ money is effectively spent, but crucially will create the environmental conditions to sustain long-term agricultural production through the enhancement of biodiversity.

The bees need this . ..  and so do the rest of us!

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