Bees have been in the news a lot lately, as calls to ban neonicotinoid pesticides have reached fever pitch across Europe. The EU is proposing a temporary ban of their use on crops such as oil seed rape, although some EU countries – including the UK – are resisting this proposal until more research is done.
This family of pesticides includes the chemicals imidacloprid and thiacloprid, which are often the key ingredient in common garden products such as bug sprays andvine weevil drenches. When applied to the seed or plant, these systemic pesticides are absorbed by the plants and are found in small doses in their leaves, roots and stems, but also in their pollen and nectar. Pollen and nectar is, of course, collected and eaten by bees and, as such, the pesticides have long been linked to global bee declines. One scientific study conducted last year found that the number of bumblebee queens produced by each nest was reduced by 85 per cent when exposed to neonicotinoids.
There's a lot of politics surrounding the issue – not least the fear that an outright ban of neonicotinoids will result in smaller crop yields. What's more, the pesticide manufacturers, Bayer, has strenuously denied a link between their products and bee declines. But, while the governments, farmers and industry lobbyists battle the issue out, we gardeners can help create pesticide-free refuges for pollinators in our gardens.
Whether current evidence is enough to sway you or you would like more research to be done before making your mind up, it's clear that this group of pesticides may be contributing to bee and other insect declines. A number of garden centres and DIY stores have already withdrawn products containing neonicotinoids, but if your shed is home to bug sprays and vine weevil drench then why not leave them on the shelf for now, at least until more tests have been done to determine – once and for all – whether these chemicals harm our bees.
In the meantime, wild bees and other pollinators are starting to emerge from hibernation now, hungry after a winter without food. I know they can forage safely in my garden – can they do so in yours?