The Way I See It #39 : By Darren Murphy

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Environmentalists have been campaigning to save our dwindling bee population for some time. Only this week, though, they may have made their most significant breakthrough yet, after the European Union voted for a two-year ban on neonicotinoids – the nerve-agent pesticides, which some scientists are blaming for the global decline of bee populations.

The ban, which is to come into force by December, was backed by 15 of the 27 EU member states. Britain voted against it, despite fashion designers Vivienne

Westwood and Katharine Hamnett’s best efforts in presenting a petition to Downing Street, which had been signed by more than 300,000 people.

Maybe some readers aren’t quite sure why there is such a big fuss being made about the waning bee community? Possibly, a good few of you are more than relieved at the thought of sitting in the garden on a warm summer’s day without the fear of being stung by a bee. If that’s the case, you should definitely read on until the end of this article. It may just leave you with an entirely different opinion on the humble bee. Especially when taking into account that bees are vital to our eco system and subsidize the European agricultural industry with more than €22billion each year.

Bees are not only essential for pollinating wild flowers, they also pollinate a high proportion of the fruits and vegetables which we take for granted. It’s actually estimated that bees pollinate 80 per cent of human plant-based food sources. This also means if bees continue to degenerate at such an alarming rate, food prices will inflate and something as common as an apple may become a luxury. In China, humans are being employed to pollinate pear trees as the area these trees are located, has become extinct of bee’s. People use feather dusters to brush the insides of plants with pollen. The only problem with this is it’s highly impractical, when one takes into consideration that a single hive of 50,000 bees will pollinate half-a-million plants in one day!

There are more than 30 scientific studies which claim to prove a link between neonicotinoids and dwindling bee numbers. Although there are concerns a ban on insecticides may have an impact on food production (because crops will now be more susceptible to damage by other insects), I personally think it’s a good idea and that at least a preventative measure to slow the decline of bee populations has been put into place.

There is always a but, though, and pesticides are not the only threats that bees are facing. Disease may also be contributing to the dramatic drop in their numbers. Mites are known to carry a disease which is harmful to bees and considering the close proximity at which bees work and live, it’s easy to understand how one infected bee may contaminate the entire hive very quickly.

Colony collapse disorder is another menace which can affect bee populations, where entire hives just die off with no explanation. Although it has been claimed by several leading scientists that the growth in genetically modified crops may be to blame for these freak occurrences, as bees may lack tolerance to the unnatural modified pollen.

What’s apparent and it’s not being outrageous to say, is that a world without bees would be a lot more difficult and demanding. I’m not saying we wouldn’t survive, but we have to become more aware of the fundamentals that allow us to exist. Bees play a huge role in our survival and if they were to fall into extinction, as some species of bee already have, then the chain reaction could possibly be more than we ever imagined.