27 d’agost 2011



Scientists already know why our pollinators are dying out. We need action now on pesticides and farming, not more money for research. Do we really need to spend £10m on researching why our pollinators are dying out?

There is no doubt that honeybees, hoverflies, wasps, bumblebees, moths and butterflies are all under threat. Since the 1970s, there has been a 75% decline in butterfly species in the UK, three species of bumblebees are now extinct, and honeybees have been having a pretty hard time for the last few years. But is research into a variety of possible causes from land use, disease, environmental change and pesticides what is needed to save them?

The nine projects that received a share of the £10m funding announced today all sound incredibly interesting, especially the one that includes fitting tiny radio frequency ID tags to pollinators (pdf) to record when bees enter and leave the nest.

Funding for Warwick University to unravel the impact of the varroa mite on transmitting viruses in honeybees will be particularly welcomed by beekeepers across the world as they grapple with trying to control the blood-sucking parasite that lives on most of our honeybees and is a major reason for their continual demise.

Anyone wanting to green their city and encourage urban beekeeping will be delighted that Jane Memmott at Bristol has been awarded a grant to answer the question "How can we make our cities more pollinator-friendly?"

Yet the truth is that we already know the answer to many of the questions about why our pollinators are dying out.

As Claire Carvell at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology says: "Bumblebees have declined worldwide, largely due to the loss of flowers and other habitats they need to survive in the countryside." For bumblebees, read hoverflies, wasps, moths and butterflies.

So rather than spend three years researching how far bumblebees go to forage and make their nests, wouldn't it be better if we reintroduced a more sustainable way of managing agricultural land right now? After all, we know that when the scientists have spent their research money, they will conclude what we knew all along: that we need to manage landscapes in a way that are more effective in conserving bumble populations.

When I researched A World Without Bees, I was surprised by how much scientific research had already been carried out, mainly in France and Italy, into the effects of pesticides on honeybees' communication and navigation. Despite this research, the pesticide companies maintained that the blame couldn't be pinned on their products as there were too many other potential culprits. The United States Department of Agriculture, which has been leading research into colony collapse disorder in the US, now acknowledges - four years after the strange phenomenon which leads to the disappearance of honeybees from their hives – that pesticides are part of the problem.

But guess what? The same pesticides are still being used by farmers. So research on its own is not enough if we are serious about saving our pollinators.

We need action. Action by governments to ban pollinator-toxic pesticides, to toughen the registration tests for pesticide approval so that in the case of honeybees their impact is measured not just on an adult bees but on the colony as a whole, and to develop more organic styles of farming that wean ourselves off the pesticides.

It is the pesticides that go hand-in-hand with the intensive, monoculture farming methods that are responsible for the loss of habitat and flowers that the scientists already know is causing the decline of our pollinators.

The UK has lost more than 3m hectares of wildflower-rich habitat since the second world war, but farming wildlife schemes have only recreated 6,500 hectares. The charity Buglife is calling on government to tackle the issue head-on and create a network of wildflower meadows now. Its "B-lines" would be rivers of flowers in every county, one going east west and the other north-south. The scheme would depend on a new "conservation credits" scheme that would require developers – and others who provide economic benefits but whose sector degrades wildlife – to purchase credits that would secure wildflower habitats.

Autora: Alison Benjamin