Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YORK to 80360 or send an email»
Bug spray ain’t the bees’ knees
AS IF life wasn’t busy enough, I have rejoined Twitter. This after an 800-and-something day absence, during which I simply forgot to tweet.
I know, I know, it’s unbelievable, but there you are. Birds, looters and celebs are all at it and I just… forgot. Bizarrely, my followers had quadrupled in the interim, which says something, although I’m not sure it’s a good something.
The first thing I learned was that Brian Blessed would be attempting a world space-hopper record. I presume this is to see if he could burst it in one jump. The second thing I learned was that a journo mate of mine had just handed a cup of tea to the BBC’s economics editor Stephanie Flanders (she of the imperious eyebrows). I suspect a crush.
The third thing I learned, courtesy of Qikipedia’s QI Elves, was that bees don’t have knees.
Well, cats don’t have pyjamas and kippers don’t have knickers – apparently all three sayings were commonplace in 1920s America – and that’s hardly a revelation. But kneeless bees? That’s another cliché ruined. How else is one supposed to describe something that’s lipsmackingly perfect?
It wouldn’t be so bad if the poor bees weren’t on their (metaphorical) knees already. Bees are having a very bad time of it, something I wrote about almost 18 months ago, and the situation has not improved, despite me writing to my MP about it. Twice.
Quite simply, bees are dying out. This is worrying because most of our crops are pollinated by bees. If they go, we all starve. Turning into human drones and hand-pollinating would be the only other option. This isn’t scaremongering; it’s already become necessary in Sichuan Province in China where bee colonies have been devastated by pesticide.
That’s the buzz about the bees, and it’s been doing the rounds all over social media and the blogosphere with petitions, campaigns and calls to action. Friends of the Earth has The Bee Cause, the Co-op has Plan Bee and insect charity Buglife has been lobbying for a ban on dangerous neonicotinoid pesticides for three years now.
Pesticide use isn’t the only cause, but it is at the heart of why bees are disappearing. The story broke at the end of March that two more field-realistic scientific studies showed that exposure to non-lethal levels of neonicotinoid pesticides – a new generation of nerve-agent pesticides, 7,000 times more toxic than DDT – seriously harm bees.
In one trial, on bumblebees, production of queens dropped by 85 per cent. The other trial demonstrated that honeybees were two to three times more likely to die away from their nests because their homing abilities were impaired. A raft of other studies over the past few years have showed a compelling link with these particular pesticides. Their use has been banned in several European countries, but they are still are widely used in Britain and in the US.
You’d think this would be focusing minds, but the powers-that-be are being obstinately, stupidly, inconceivably slow in “getting it”. So slow, that one has to wonder whether the profits of Bayer, one of the world’s largest agro-chemical companies, are more important than the calamity that could unfold if its neonics are not withdrawn.
Bayer’s quarterly profits have recently been announced (a tidy $3.22 billion), surpassing market expectations, helped by sales of farming pesticides which jumped 15.6 per cent. No wonder the internet appeal to its shareholders by global democracy action group Avaaz failed.
Let’s put this in context. The annual value of the pollination service provided by bees has been estimated at £200 million in Britain alone. Globally, it would cost £128 billion. Bees don’t bill us, and they don’t get to vote, either. But we do.
The latest response from my pursuit of this issue was a patronising letter from MP Richard Benyon, Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, who declared that, “studies considered to date raise some interesting questions, but do not cause a need for a change in the regulatory process”. There was some blathering about “keeping abreast of developments” and “identifying current gaps in the research/policy interface”, but it sounds like hand-sitting to me.
Time to call in the big guns, I say. The combined might of Justin Bieber’s and Stephen Fry’s Twitter followers (25 million plus – though 21 mill of those are Bieber’s) could swing it. I’m going to tweet at them right away.