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Bernard and Bees (and also Sir Bob)

The health of bees is in the news again today

Our MP Bernard Jenkin has shown interest in the past:

Hope he's putting pressure on DEFRA today along with Friends of the Earth and others - he might need a reminder...

A bit of background info:

(Bernard's the one on the left of the picture)



  • This is really important ...
    in fact I've had a go at this, and on 14 March I emailed Bernard Jenkin concerning the threat to bees from the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, including the following:  "I believe that France, Italy and other European countries support a temporary
    ban on the pesticides being blamed for killing bees. It’s important that our
    environment secretary votes to support the suspension and to stop the use of
    these deadly chemicals which find their way (via pollen) into the bees.  I know that you yourself have an interest in protecting and sustaining
    the environment, and I recall the time you helped in planting trees at Elmstead
    two or three years ago."  (Creep).

    He very quickly replied:

      " Thank you for your
    recent email regarding the above. I thought you might find it helpful if I
    explain what is happening and the approach the Government is taking. 
      The Government takes any threat to bees very seriously and we have
    approached the issue of neonicotinoids in this light, making it clear that we
    are prepared to take action if the evidence indicates a need. In deciding what
    action may be needed to protect bees, the correct process is first to collect
    the evidence and make the best possible assessment of the risks posed by
    neonicotinoids. Then it is possible to decide a proportionate response. This
    includes checking for unintended consequences (such as farmers switching from
    neonicotinoids to alternative products with their own impacts on bees or the
    wider environment).
      Laboratory studies show that bees may be
    significantly affected by neonicotinoids. However, field data on honey bees
    indicates that the level of exposure in real life does not lead to these harmful
    effects. There has been an absence of field data on other bee species and Defra
    therefore commissioned field trials on bumble bees, which will produce final
    results within the next few weeks.
      Pesticides, such as
    neonicotinoids, can only be sold or used if approved. This is a two stage
    process, with active substances being approved at EU level and products
    containing approved active substances being authorised by Member States.
    Approvals are only granted if assessment of scientific data shows that risks are
    acceptably low. Approvals are regularly reviewed to ensure they continue to meet
    current standards. Earlier review is possible if concerns arise and can lead to
    withdrawal of product authorisations.
      The Independent Advisory
    Committee on Pesticides has considered the evidence on several occasions. The
    Committee advised, following its latest meeting on 29 January, that there were
    grounds for a review of neonicotinoid authorisations under pesticides
    legislation. They also advised that a decision on regulatory action should not
    be taken in advance of the final outputs of the current research, which should
    be completed urgently. I have accepted the Committee‟s advice and officials are
    taking this work forward.
      Neonicotinoids are important
    insecticides. Their use as seed treatments allows effective control of crops at
    the earliest stage of crop development and they control pests that are
    increasingly becoming resistant to other products. Although there are
    uncertainties, Defra‟s assessment suggests that it is highly probable that
    restrictions on neonicotinoids would carry significant costs for
      As in the UK, consideration of this issue in
    Europe has been running for some months. Considerable efforts have been put into
    designing an updated risk assessment process for the effects of pesticides on
    bees and UK experts have contributed to this work. On the instructions of the
    Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) carried out an assessment
    of the existing data on the three main neonicotinoids with the emerging new
    requirements. They published Conclusions in January which indicated,
    unsurprisingly, that the old data did not fully address the new
      The Commission have drawn up plans for a ban on
    the use of three neonicotinoids on crops “attractive to bees” (a long list
    including oilseed rape and maize) and on spring cereals. This includes a ban on
    the sale and use of all seeds for those crops treated with the three active
    substances and a review after 2 years.
      The UK has not ruled out
    action. However, we have urged the Commission to make a proportionate response
    to the scientific evidence. We have called on them to complete the scientific
    assessment, taking account of our new research, and to assess the impacts of
    action so that the measures taken are proportionate to the risks
      Regrettably, the Commission have not listened to
    our views and those of many other Governments. Their proposal was today put to a
    vote in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The UK
    abstained in this vote. In total 14 Member States either abstained or voted
    against the Commission.
      As many Member States did not support
    the Commission, its proposal was not adopted. However, it is expected that it
    will go to an Appeal Committee where the proposal will pass unless a Qualified
    Majority of Member States vote against.
      We will continue to
    work on this issue. In particular, we will complete the field studies that we
    have in hand and this will provide further much needed scientific information on
    field effects of neonicotinoids. In Europe, we will continue to press the
    Commission to complete an assessment of the science and the impacts of action
    and to draw up proportionate proposals.
      We will also continue
    with our wider work to protect bees. It is very clear that bees face many
    problems that are unrelated to neonicotinoids and it would be entirely wrong to
    lose sight of these issues. We are looking across all our activities on bees to
    see whether there are areas where more work is needed and whether there may be
    added value in bringing together a holistic strategy or action plan for
    pollinators. I will be meeting Friends of the Earth on Tuesday to discuss this
      It is the importance of bees and other pollinators that
    underpins our work in this area. In addressing the problems facing our bees and
    pollinators it is vital to understand them, take all the evidence into account
    and make a considered response. Hasty action is very likely to be ineffective or
    to have unforeseen consequences. We will continue to look at bee health in the
    round and will take whatever action is appropriate to safeguard these valuable
      Thank you again for taking the time to write to me
    on this important issue.
      Yours sincerely

    This may very well have been a form letter, but I was impressed to have received such a detailed answer, even though there might be a hidden message about commercial aspects and Big Business in there somewhere.  It needed a response, however, and on 23 March I replied:

    "Dear Mr Jenkin

     thank you for your courteous and considered

        I understand of course that having good field
    studies and scientific evidence is the ideal; but I am not at all sure that we
    have the luxury of time on our side (and on the side of the pollinators).  For
    example, Lord Deben: "If ever there were an issue where the
    precautionary principle ought to guide our actions, it is in the use of
    neonicotinoids. Bees are too important to our crops to continue to take this

      I agree that your point about checking for
    unintended consequences is an important one.  However that may be a necessary
    risk to take, in the face of continuing death of bees.  And I have read that the
    Italian ban on neonicotinoids has not led to any pest problems or any loss of
    yield or profit.

      You say 'It is very clear that
    bees face many problems that are unrelated to neonicotinoids and it would be
    entirely wrong to lose sight of these issues.'  Quite so.  I am really pleased
    to know of your advocacy of a holistic approach,and would be very interested to hear the outcome
    of your dialogue with Friends of the Earth.

      I remain of the opinion that the dangers facing
    honey bees and indeed facing a wide range of essential pollinators constitute a
    real emergency for our policymakers and ourselves."

    So far, 12 days later, no further communication.  I don't think I made a strong enough point for the need for action now, not at some unspecified point in the future (when all the bees have perished).  Mind you, I never ever expected that I would be on the same side as John Gummer (Lord Deben)!  He didn't seem to be following the precautionary principle when he was force-feeding his kid with beefburger during the mad cow scare ... Damascene conversion perhaps?

  • Sorry that turned out to be so long ...
  • No need to apologise at all Peter - good work - and thanks for sharing it.

    The answer Bernard Jenkin gives is pretty much DEFRA's official response. I wonder if he will continue to follow that line after today's strongly worded report from The Environmental Audit Committee

    It's good that he met with Friends of the Earth. They will hopefully have passed onto him much of this information:

  • Well done for trying Peter, but my experience of Bernard Jenkin's 'communication skills' are that you receive a 'stock' response to your first query, and thereafter he doesn't bother to respond to any follow-up points you try to make...   Talk about complacent?  Sigh.
  • edited April 2013
    The Co-op hasn't waited...

    Early in 2009, they prohibited the use of six
    neonicotinoid pesticides on their own-brand fresh and frozen produce
    (clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, fipronil, nitenpyram and
    thiamethoxam). This requires growers to seek a derogation for use if
    they can demonstrate viable alternatives don’t exist.

    Here is their written evidence from Nov 19, 2012 to the Environmental Audit Committee:
  • Good for the Co-op!  That news, Roger, puts the Co-op even higher in my estimation than before.
    Interesting link to their evidence -- in particular I note:

    "Inadequate assessment of the sub-lethal effects of pesticides

    The use of neonicotinoid pesticides
    is very widespread – in 2011 in excess of 1.25 million hectares of
    British cropland were treated with this class of pesticide. However, the chronic, long-term effects of these systematic
    chemicals are not adequately addressed by the current pesticide safety
    assessment process, a situation which should be urgently rectified.

    Systemic pesticides behave very
    differently to conventional applications. As the chemical is taken into
    each part of the plant including the pollen and nectar, (my italics) the exposure of
    bees to the insecticides is prolonged, causing chronic exposure to
    pollinators. In the case of honey and bumblebees, this exposure
    continues in the hive. At present, there is no suitable standardised
    testing procedure for chronic toxicity of pesticides, there are no
    threshold values with which to identify a chemical which presents a
    significant risk and the wider environmental impact of their use is not
    considered appropriately."

    Puffin, I think you're right, so I shall email BJ again -- I'll include the above text from the Co-op evidence -- see if I get any response.

  • All power to your elbow Peter!  If he doesn't respond, perhaps we should all message him with the Co-op text ('swarming' in bee parlance), then see if he has the nerve to tell us to go away ('buzz off')?
  • edited April 2013
    The next EU vote on this* is due on Monday 29th April. Last time there was a vote the UK government abstained on banning these pesticides and the proposal for a ban did not go through under the qualified majority voting system. This time the Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, is indicating that he will vote against a ban.

    The situation is this. Because the first round of voting resulted in a 'hung' vote, with no majority for or against the ban, the decision has now gone to a second round of voting at an appeals committee. If member States again fail to reach a qualified majority vote supporting the proposal to ban the pesticides, the Commission would have the power to approve the ban.

    But, the pesticides industry is lobbying Member States hard to try
    to reach a qualified majority to reject the proposal outright and so
    block the ban on the pesticides. Which is why the UK government says it is going to vote against the proposal this time.

    So next week's vote is going to be crucial. Bulgaria, who also abstained in the last round of voting, say they will vote in favour of the ban this time. But that does not cancel out a UK vote against the ban because, under the voting rules, the UK has 29 votes to cast but Bulgaria only 10. The number of votes each country has is proportionate to the size of population.

    It is thought that if the UK stops abstaining and votes to support the ban there should be enough of a majority for it to pass. At the moment though, everything suggests that the UK is going to not just abstain but actively oppose the ban this time around.

    There is a lot about the lobbying tactics of Bayer and Syngenta, the two companies who make the pesticides, here:

    *The proposal would ban neonicotinoids on all
    crops except winter cereals and plants not attractive to bees, such as
    sugar beet. It would apply from July 1, 2013, ensuring this spring's
    maize sowing is unaffected, with a review after two years.

  • Sometimes I'm just embarrassed being British (though it's said we get the leaders we deserve...?).
  • Just remember this and don't vote for them on May 2nd.
  • In fact, vote for the very people that they would most like you not to vote for - UKIP!
  • edited April 2013
    Taking the above suggestion at face value - voters should be aware that UKIP have fought EU proposals for pesticide bans in the past.
  • I'd sooner not vote at all...
  • But then you would miss all the fun of arguing about who one should vote for......
  • edited April 2013

    Monday 29th April _ European member states have just finished voting in a second round vote proposing a ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides thought to be implemented in harming bee and other insect pollinator populations.

    The UK Government failed to back the pesticide ban and had hoped that there would be a clear majority against the ban with this round of voting. They abstained last time, but voted with a clear no to the ban this time round.

    The UK decision wasn't enough to avoid the ban though.  Another hung vote occurred which meant that the final decision was left this time to the European commission, and they will implement their recommendation to ban the pesticides.

  • To my simple mind it seems such an obvious decision:

    either: vote for the ban and cause temporary damage to an industry that has sufficient entrepreneurial oomph (never mind shareholder push!) to quickly think of something else to keep its profits up and so survive;

    or: vote against the ban and risk killing all the remaining bees- who don't have much choice in the way they manage their survival.

    As I said, a simple mind...
  • It's when we have a right-wing, shortsighted, profit-led, pro-shareholder, careless-of-the-environment, easily-persuaded-by-industries government that I'm very pleased and relieved we're part of the EU.
  • I'd second that Liz!  Also, I recall that bees contribute many millions (possibly billions?) to the economy, given that they play a vital role in pollinating many of our crops, so only a pathetic excuse of a Government would wish to meddle with such a vital link in the food chain...
  • edited May 2013
    I wrote to DEFRA on 18th April with the following question:

    A paragraph from Lord de Mauley, (Parliamentary Under
    Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural affairs), in a letter to all MPs detailing
    Government policy on Neonicotinoid Insecticides and Bees.

    "The evidence on neonicotinoids: Laboratory studies
    show that bees may be significantly affected by neonicotinoids. However, field
    data on honey bees indicates that the level of exposure in real life does not
    lead to these harmful effects. There has been an absence of field data on other
    bee species and Defra therefore commissioned field trials on bumble bees, which
    will produce final results within the next few

    Could I ask for a more precise indication of what
    "within the next few weeks" means? Lord de Mauley's letter was dated 15th

    I have now received a response (see attached document - sign into the Forum if you find you are unable to open it). It doesn't actually answer the specific question I had asked, but gives a general account of recent events outlined in earlier posts on this thread.

    It does however say that: "The EU Commission also gave an assurance that it will be possible to carry out further field research on the risks to bees from neonicotinoids. This is very important as all parties acknowledge that the current evidence is incomplete. The Government will therefore lead on further work, including field studies, which will reduce the uncertainties and which will be helpful to all those with an interest in this issue. We would expect that the outcome of the Commission's review by 2015 will be founded firmly on the resultant strengthened scientific evidence base"

    The response also makes it clear that the UK Government was "disappointed with the Commission's final proposal" to ban the three pesticides. To bolster their position they say: "A number of other countries agreed with us that imposing severe restrictions was not the right action to take (there were a total of eight Member States voting against and four abstentions)."
    What they fail to mention though is that far more Member States, fifteen in all, voted for the ban.

  • lizliz
    edited May 2013
    This government is pathetic. We all know wherein its interests lie - and it's not for the good of the many (bees or humankind).
  • edited May 2013

    New research by the University of Reading reveals the true extent of
    the threat facing some of Britain's most iconic bee species. Next Thursday, 16th May, scientists from the university and others will present their findings to MPs in Parliament.

    Friends of the Earth are urging people to write to their MPs to encourage them to attend the event.

    A great round up in pictures of some of the bees that are most at risk is here:

  • edited May 2013
    Two days ago Sir Bob Russell MP launched an online petition on his website.

    It's been titled Trees for Bees in Colchester and says "We call on Colchester Borough Council to bring in a bee-friendly policy that will include using bee-friendly planting on its land and
    encouraging all future large planning development applications to do the

    The sort of trees that are particularly friendly to bees are listed here by the British Bee Keepers Association.

    The idea for the petition no doubt followed on from this event which Sir Bob Russell introduced in March this year:

    MARCH 2013.

    Sir Bob Russell: Why are we here?  Because bees are essential to us.  Out of 100 crop
    species worldwide I am told that 71 of these are bee pollinated.  We all
    know that populations of bees and other pollinators have dropped
    dramatically in recent years...there is little doubt that these declines are complex and wide ranging,
    but there is little doubt that pesticides play a key part.

  • edited May 2013
    The Friends of the Earth Bees Tea event in Parliament last week (see above ) saw "a record" number of MPs attending.

    A list of the MPs that turned up is here:

    Our area was represented.  Bernard Jenkin MP sent an assistant along* and Bob Russell MP was there in person.

    The event highlighted the recent work on bees from the University of Reading. One of the many bees at risk that their study reports on is the Sea-Aster Mining Bee and is particularly relevant to our region - details here

    (*Bernard Jenkin was busy elsewhere that afternoon giving a speech as chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee.)
  • edited May 2013

    A bit more on what Sir Bob Russell's petition  aimed at Colchester Borough Council  is all about:

    In the broadest sense, we are attempting to encourage the Council to adopt a
    ‘pollinator policy’, which might impact, for example, on large planning
    developments, to make sure they support pollinator communities. At this
    stage, we are pressing the Council to include ‘pollinator criteria’ in their
    assessments for planting green areas, based upon the British Bee Keeping
    Association’s recommendations.

    Best wishes,

    Tom Rodger

    Parliamentary Assistant

    Office of Sir Bob Russell MP

  • edited June 2013
    I wrote to DEFRA on 18th April with a specific question, see posting above.
    Their first reply was fairly general, and so I asked my specific question again and have now received this reply...

    From the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs
    4th June 2013

    Bee Studies

    Thank you for your letter of 9 May in response to my letter of the same date, about bee studies. I have been asked to reply.

    The final report on the research on the field trials of bumble bees was published on the 27 March as part of DEFRA's assessment of the evidence on neonicotinoids. This can be viewed at:

    The current assessment of the evidence suggests that while we cannot exclude rare effects of neonicotinoids on bees in the field, these effects do not occur under normal circumstances. Consequently the assessment supports the view that the risk to bee populations from neonicotinoids, as they are currently used, is low. The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, and Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, agree with this conclusion.

    Your sincerely,
    Ria Morodore
    Defra - Customer Contact Unit.

    ...there has been plenty of response to the study since.
    Friends of the Earth issued this statement.

    This is worth a read:’s-field-research-neonicotinoids-and-bumblebees-–-what-does-it-tell-us

    and so too is this article from The Independent:
    An extract:
    Dr Christopher Connolly, a researcher on neonicitinoids at the
    University of Dundee, said: "This study is so seriously flawed it's
    meaningless and it is unfair of Defra to flaunt this research over other
    studies. I don't think it should be able to be presented to the public
    until it is peer-reviewed."

    However, the National Farmers Union view is broadly in line with the Government on this. Local farmer Peter Fairs, who farms at Great Tye near Colchester and who writes for the Essex County Standard, put that view recently in his column.

  • Has anybody lost a swarm of bees - or know a bee keeper?  A swarm turned up in a garden in Hamilton Road this afternoon and we're not sure what to do.  Help!  
  • edited June 2013

    pamela_sue, I'm NOT an expert on this, but just looking up what is on the British Bee Keepers Association site there is advice for locating a local swarm collector. Just enter your postcode and a list of names and contact details comes up.

    I'm sure Chris (Gibson) might be able to offer some thoughts too. Chris spotted a swarm by the Cooks shipyard last week and took photos of it.

    Good advice here too:

    There is a swarm collector in Wivenhoe.
    Rodney Smart of The Avenue
    Tel 01206 825 789
  • Thanks for your help Roger - the swarm has now been collected by Paul White, from the British Bee Keepers Association.  We've told Chris about the swarm and are now trying to put some pictures up on the forum on Beetles and Bugs of Wivenhoe.
  • Glad your bee swarm found a good home pamela_sue, and thanks for sharing the series of photos and the detailed description of how they were collected.

    This week is seeing another important event taking place for the bees. The British Bee Summit is the biggest ever gathering of experts, co-hosted by
    Friends of the Earth, Waitrose, the Co-op and the Women's Institute. Lord de Mauley, (Parliamentary Under Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural affairs) is expected to lay out his
    plans to tackle bee decline at the summit. FoE are running a petition this week to "convince Bees Minister Lord de Mauley to announce ambitious plans to save
    Britain's bees as soon as possible
    ." Should anyone want to add their name here is the link.
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