Try to imagine a world without bees; it’s not only honey that we would have to do without. The fruit, vegetables, flowers, nuts and seeds that many of us take for granted all depend on honeybees for pollination. The pollination services that bees currently provide would have to be replaced by hand pollination; a costly and time consuming process which, with an estimated cost of up to £1500million a year, would be prohibitive, and add to our food bills. It’s unsurprising then that the WI’s SOS for Honeybees campaign has resonated so strongly with WI members and their communities.
The evidence on the multiple challenges facing bees has been growing over a course of years. The government is finally taking steps towards the action that’s needed with the development of a National Pollinator Strategy, published in draft in March, and currently being finalised.
MPs on the green watchdog, the Environmental Audit Select Committee have been scrutinising the strategy and taking evidence on its potential efficacy from a range of experts including Defra’s Chief Scientist, Ian Boyd, the NFU and Friends of the Earth. The NFWI’s Marylyn Haines Evans, Public Affairs Committee chair also gave evidence to the Committee’s inquiry, setting out WI concerns that while it’s a good start point, there is room for improvement.
The Select Committee’s report was published last week, and like the WI they felt that the strategy is lacking in several important areas. MPs expressed particular concern that much needed research into pesticides, and their impacts on bees, will be funded by pesticide companies with the risk that the needs of bees risk being undermined by commercial interests. Committee Chair, Joan Walley commented: “When it comes to research on pesticides, Defra is content to let the manufacturers fund the work. This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the Department responsible for it. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step”.
With bee numbers in sharp decline, securing unbiased, transparent research in which the public can trust – and on which policy makers can act – is a priority for the WI; this should be a priority for the government too.