B&Q welcomes EU ban on pesticides

B&Q welcomes EU ban on pesticides

The European Union has voted to bring in a total ban on the outdoor use of three of the world’s most widely-used insecticides, due to the risk they pose to the bee population.

The ban on neonicotinoids, approved by EU member nations today, is expected to come into force by the end of this year and the chemicals will now only be allowed to be used in closed green houses.

Environmental organisation Friends of the Earth (FOE) has called the ban a “major victory for science, common sense and our under-threat bees”.

B&Q has also welcomed the decision, which comes as the widespread use of pesticides has been blamed for the plummeting numbers of pollinating insects, including bees, seen in recent years. In 2013 the EU issued a ban on the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops that attract bees, such as oil seed rape and FOE describes “mounting scientific evidence of the threat these pesticides pose to our bees and other wildlife”.

In February, a major assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that the high risk to both wild bees and honeybees resulted from any outdoor use of neonicotinoids, because the pesticides contaminate soil and water. As a result, neonicotinoid pesticides can then appear in wildflowers or succeeding crops in fields, while a global study of honey samples even revealed contamination by neonicotinoids – sometimes at worrying “neuroactive levels”.

B&Q market director Steve Guy said of the EU’s decision today: “B&Q was the first UK retailer to introduce a total ban on plants grown using neonicotinoids, and we absolutely welcome this new EU legislation. Back in 2017 we worked in conjunction with our growers to come up with a plan which saw B&Q become the first major retailer to take this important step. We’ve seen a brilliant response from consumers since we made this announcement – people really seem to understand just how important it is to support bees in their nature habitat.”

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He added: “We believe this new legislation will make an enormous difference to the population of bees in the UK. The public can support them themselves by planting flowering pollinators in their gardens and using products which support nature.”

Emi Murphy, bee campaigner at FOE, which has been campaigning for tougher restrictions on neonicotinoids for a number of years, said: “This is a major victory for science, common sense and our under-threat bees. The evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to our bees is overwhelming.

“It’s great news that Michael Gove listened to the experts and backed the ban – he must now give farmers the support they need to grow food without bee-harming pesticides.

“Neonicotinoids are not the only threat bees face – ministers must urgently step up efforts to boost nature, protect wildlife-friendly habitats and tackle over reliance on pesticides in their post-Brexit farming policy.”

Europe proposes full ban on ‘bee-harming pesticides’

The European Commission has proposed a ban on widely used insecticides from all fields across Europe under draft regulations, and cite them as having “high acute risks to bees”.

The decision by Brussels, in documents seen by The Guardian, could shock the farming industry which is fearful that a ban on the substances could deplete crop yields across Europe.

If proposals are approved by a majority of EU member states, a complete ban could be in place this year.

The European Commission has cited a risk to bees as one of the reasons for the ban proposal.

The latest proposal is based on opinions of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published in 2016.

These opinions concur with independent scientific assessments of the dangers associated with neonicotinoid pesticides.

There is some scientific consensus that bees are exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides in fields and suffer harm from the doses they receive.

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For example, Stirling University researchers have said bees exposed to neonicotinoids fail to learn how to buzz properly and in turn they fail to release the pollen from some flowers, such as those of crops like tomatoes and potatoes.

Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said it was good news for the environment but even if the pesticides are banned ‘similar chemicals will still be permitted.’

“The EU must apply the same strict standards to all pesticides and support the transition to ecological methods of pest control.”

‘Over-zealous’

However, MEPs in Brussels have been warned against ‘over-zealous’ and ‘ill-considered’ banning of important pesticides in the European Parliament.

UK’s Centre for Applied Crop Science said the EU was not performing well when approving or banning plant protection products.

Chairman John Chinn told a hearing at the European Parliament: “A failure to distinguish between hazard and risk is an essential part of the confusion about perceived threats from or to our environment; in general hazard identification is easy and often speculative; risk evaluation is generally complex and demanding.

“Rational responses are not invariable. There is an extraordinary disregard for well documented risks while others, of marginal significance, distort public and private spending decisions.

“These factors, coupled with a perverse preference for natural toxicity over synthetic safety, lead to an indifferent performance in risk management in the community.”

‘Disappointed’

The National Farmers’ Union said farmers across the country have already suffered heavy losses through oilseed rape crop damage following restrictions to the availability of neonicotinoids.

A recent survey of 400 arable farmers who all grow winter oilseed rape (OSR) reports that 8.3 per cent of the crop this year has failed.

But Paul de Zylva, of Friends of the Earth, said: “The science is catching up with the pesticide industry – the EU and UK government must call time on neonics. Going neonic-free puts farmers more in control of their land instead of having to defer to advice from pesticide companies.”

However, Sarah Mukherjee, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, which represents pesticide makers, said: “We are disappointed with this proposal, which seems more of a political judgement than sound science.”

“The proposal is based on an assessment using the unapproved Bee Guidance document and perfectly illustrates the consequences of using this guidance. Most crop protection products, including those used in organic agriculture, would not pass the criteria.”

Asian Hornet Update

Following the finding of Asian hornets in Gloucestershire last week we have received a large number of suspect Asian hornet reports from members of the public and beekeepers which we are following up. Bee inspectors have now visited over 100 sites. Asian hornets have been seen at just six locations within 500 meters of the original site.

Efforts to track down the nest and destroy it are ongoing. There have been no other substantiated reports of hornets anywhere else in the UK so please be patient while we continue our field work and be assured that when appropriate, national alerts will be sent out via our email alert system. In the meantime, our news feed on BeeBase will be used to keep everyone updated.

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Do you know how honey is produced by the bees

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If you don’t know how do bees produce honey until now after reading of this text you will know very well the whole process…

The western, or European honeybee, pollinates three fourths of the fruits, veggies and nuts that we eat. We’d be in trouble without them. Of course, there’s a reason we don’t call them zucchini bees, almond bees, or apple bees. They also give us honey. One healthy hive will make and consume more than 50 kg of honey in a single year, and that takes a lot of work.

Honey is made from nectar, but it doesn’t come out of flowers as that golden, sticky stuff. After finding a suitable food source, bees dive in head first, using their long, specially adapted tongues to slurp tiny sips of nectar into one of two stomachs. A single bee might have to drink from more than a thousand flowers to fill its honey stomach, which can weigh as much as the bee itself when full of nectar. On the way back to the hive, digestive enzymes are already working to turn that nectar into sweet gold. When she returns to the hive, the forager bee will vomit the nectar into the mouth of another worker. That bee will vomit it into another bee’s mouth, and so on.

honey-producing

This game of regurgitation telephone is an important part of the honey making process, since each bee adds more digestive enzymes to turn long chains of complex sugars in the raw nectar into simple monosaccharides like fructose and glucose. At this point, the nectar is still pretty watery, so the bees beat their wings and create an air current inside the hive to evaporate and thicken the nectar, finally capping the cell with beeswax so the enzyme rich bee barf can complete its transformation into honey. Because of its low water content and acidic pH, honey isn’t a very inciting place for bacteria or yeast spoilage, and it has an incredibly long shelf life in the hive or in your pantry. Honey has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back thousands of years, pretty much unspoiled.

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For one pound of honey, tens of thousands of foraging bees will together fly more than three times around the world and visit up to 8 million flowers. That takes teamwork and organization, and although they can’t talk they do communicate… with body language. Foragers dance to tell other bees where to find food. A circle dance means flowers are pretty close to the hive, but for food that’s farther away, they get their waggle on. The waggle dance of the honey bee was first decoded by Karl Von Frisch, and it’s definitely one of the coolest examples of animal communication in nature. First the bee walks in a straight line, wagging its body back and forth and vibrating its wings, before repeating in a figure eight. Whatever angle the bee walks while waggling tells the other bees what direction to go. Straight up the line of honeycombs, then the food is in the direction of the sun. If the dance is pointed to the left or right, the other bees know to fly in that angle relative to the sun. The longer the waggle, the farther away the food is, and the food is better, the more excited the bee shakes its body.

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If that’s not amazing enough, even if they can’t see the sun itself, they can infer where it is and the time of day by reading the polarization of light in the blue sky. A single bee is a pretty simple creature, but together they create highly complex and social societies. There’s three main classes in a beehive: drones, workers and queens. When a new queen is born, she immediately runs around and kills her sisters, because there can be only one. During mating season, she’ll fly to a distant hive to mate with several males and store away the sperm, which she’ll use back at her home hive to lay more than a thousand eggs a day throughout the rest of her life. Any unfertilized eggs, those that don’t join up with sperm, will mature into male drones, which means they only have one set of chromosomes. But fertilized eggs are all genetically female, destined t become either queens or workers. Queens do the egg laying of course, but worker bees are the backbone of the beehive.

So what makes most females become workers, while just one wears the hive crown? A baby bee’s diet activate genetic programming that shifts its entire destiny. Every bee larva is initially fed a nutrient rich food called royal jelly, but after a few days, worker bee babies are switched to a mixture of pollen and honey called “bee bread”. But queens eat royal jelly their whole life, even as adults. Scientists used to think it was just royal jelly that put queens on the throne, but just last year they discovered one chemical in bee bread, the food that queens don’t get, that keeps worker bees sterile. Being a queen seems to be as much about what bees don’t eat as what they do. Making honey is insect farming on its grandest scale, with intricate societies cooperating to make a food fit for bear tummies bid and small… with the pleasant side effect of pollinating most of the world’s flowering plants.

 

They’re here! Long-feared UK arrival of honeybee-killing Asian hornet confirmed

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The first sighting of an invasive Asian hornet to the UK mainland has been confirmed, with experts warning of dire consequences for honeybees if the new species is not swiftly eradicated.

The hornet, Vespa velutina, has been found in the Tetbury area of Gloucestershire. Specialist hornet-killing squads armed with infrared cameras and specialist pesticides are now out in force to find and destroy its nests.

The National Bee Unit has opened a three-mile surveillance zone around Tetbury, where the hornet was found. The unit has also opened a local control center to coordinate the response.

A second Asian hornet has been seen since, which experts say suggests there was a nest of the invasive species.

While the Asian hornet offers no threat to human health, it poses a risk to important pollinating insects such as honeybees and could do serious damage to colonies in Britain, which have been in decline for many years.

The hornet first arrived in France in 2004 and is now common across large areas of Europe. Officials in the UK have been concerned the species would arrive here through imports such as plants or timber, or even by flying across the Channel.

The species was discovered for the first time in Jersey and Alderney this summer.

Diane Roberts, the press officer for the British Bee Keepers Association (BBKA), said the hornets hover outside the entrance to beehives and as the bees fly out, “they kill them by biting off their heads.”

“When enough bees are dead they invade through the entrance of the hive and take the honey. They also eat the baby larvae of the bees too,”she added.

Nicola Spence, the Environment Department’s deputy director for plant and bee health, said: “We have been anticipating the arrival of the Asian hornet for some years and have a well-established protocol in place to eradicate them and control any potential spread.

“It is important to remember they pose no greater risk to human health than a bee, though we recognize the damage they can cause to honeybee colonies.

“That’s why we are taking swift and robust action to identify and destroy any nests.”

It is believed the hornets will not be able to survive in the north of the UK due to the colder winters.

Bees don’t slack on the job, even when they are ill

Scientists think the insects are ‘hardwired’ to search, no matter how they feel.

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Struggle to get into work when you feel under the weather? You should take inspiration from the hard-working honeybee and spring out of bed.

New research has shown that honeybees remain excellent searchers even when they are ill.

The bees are hardwired to search the landscape efficiently, allowing them to continue working for the greater good of their hives.

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Scientists in Cornwall used radar technology to track individual bees and were able to show they remained nimble and travelled hundreds or thousands of metres even when they had infections or viruses.

Honeybees tirelessly commute between rewarding flower patches and their hive and their remarkable navigational skills rely on distinct landmarks, such as trees or houses, which they very efficiently find and memorise on orientation flights.

Experts fitted a transponder – a tiny dipole aerial much lighter than the nectar or pollen normally carried by the bee – to the thorax.

Tracking each bee individually allowed them to pick up a radar signal from the transponder showing where and how it was flying. The aerial is harmless to the bee and removable.

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Bees, like humans, can fall ill and getting around during periods of sickness can become very challenging.

The study shows that even very sick bees are still able to search their surroundings optimally in so-called Levy flight patterns.

Lead author Dr Stephan Wolf, from Queen Mary University of London, said: “The honeybees we observed had remarkably robust searching abilities, which indicate this might be hardwired in the bees rather than learned, making bees strong enough to withstand pathogens and possibly other stressors, and allowing them to still contribute to their colony by, for example, foraging for food.”

During the study the team monitored 78 bees, some of which were unwell.

The researchers discovered that the unhealthy bees did not fly as far or for as long as the healthy bees but they continued to search in the same manner, suggesting that the pattern was inbuilt.

Honeybees know it’s going to rain, so work more before it starts

Honeybees know it’s going to rain, so work more before it starts

bees and rain

Busy bees get busier if the next day looks rainy.

This is according to Xu-Jiang He and colleagues at Jiangxi Agricultural University in Nanchang, China, who attached tiny radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to 300 worker honeybees from each of three hives.

They used these to monitor when the bees left the hive, how long they were gone and when they quit work in the evening.
The bees spent more time out of the hive foraging and stopped work later in the afternoon when the following day proved to be rainy rather than sunny. They seemed to be responding to cues such as changes in humidity, temperature and barometric pressure that preceded rainstorms.

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Stores for hoarders?
The finding is surprising because honeybees should not need to set aside extra stores of food for a rainy day, says Gene Robinson, a honeybee expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Honeybee foraging ecology is not based on immediate need. They are a hoarding species,” he says.

Robinson notes that He’s team only tracked the bees for 34 days, so other factors such as blooming times of flowers could also have affected their behaviour.

If the Chinese researchers are correct, though, their discovery will help shape our understanding of how and why honeybees forage when they do, says Robinson.

And that, in turn, may help in managing the impact of climate change and human activity on bees, which are the world’s most important pollinating insects.

 

African honey bees change lives and save elephants

The Elephants and Bees Project is an innovative study using an in-depth understanding of elephant behaviour to reduce damage from crop-raiding elephants using their instinctive avoidance of African honey bees. The project explores the use of novel Beehive Fences as a natural elephant deterrent creating a social and economic boost to poverty-stricken rural communities through pollination services and the sustainable harvesting of “Elephant-Friendly Honey”.

Elephants & Bees is thrilled to share this short video on the project’s amazing milestones. Get to learn how bees are bringing harmony to communities that live with wildlife.

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700 Beehives Hang Off This Rocky Cliff to Boost Dwindling Bee Populations

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700 Beehives hang off this rocky cliff to boost dwindling Bee populations

The Shennongjia Nature Reserve in central China has an unusual approach to boost the country’s dwindling bee population: a sky-high, vertical apiary.

Roughly 700 wooden beehives hang from a cliff 4,000 feet above sea level on a mountain in the conservation area. According to People’s Daily Online, this vertigo-inducing “wall of hives” is meant to attract the area’s wild bees into settling in the boxes, as it mimics their natural habitats. To get to the boxes, beekeepers have to climb to each one individually. The hives contain thousands upon thousands of bees. As you might know, global food production is dependent on pollination provided by honey bees and other pollinators.

But in some parts of China, bees have virtually disappeared, forcing some farmers to pollinate their crops by hand with feather dusters. The website Xinhua.net reported (via The Daily Mail), that in China’s north and north east, bees have become extinct. Other areas in China are also seeing bee populations decline, the publication said.

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It is suspected that neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species, is a major factor in overall global bee population declines. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 1,121 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines.

As beekeepers and conservationists around the world try to solve the plight of colony collapse disorder, this extraordinary apiary in in the Far East seems to be seeing some success, The Daily Mail reported.

Why build an apiary on a mountain? According to the National Commission of the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO, the Shennongjia Nature Reserve is unique in that its location has several different climates zones in a single area—subtropical, warm temperate, temperate and cold temperate—which allows for a rich variety of fauna and flora (as well as ample pollen) to grow.

Along with the bees, approximately 1,131 species of plants grow in the reserve, along with 54 kinds of animals, 190 kinds of birds, 12 kinds of reptile and 8 kinds of amphibian. The commission said that the main cash income of the farmers living in the reserve is “mainly based on a diversified economy by raising cattle, pigs and beekeeping as well as collecting the Chinese herbal medicine etc.”

What we can learn from the ancient Egyptian practice of beekeeping

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“The god Re wept, and the tears from his eyes fell on the ground and turned into a bee. The bee made his honeycomb and busied himself with the flowers of every plant and so wax was made and also honey out of the tears of Re.”

What we can learn from the ancient Egyptian practice of beekeeping

This inscription from an ancient Egyptian papyrus inspired the title of a new book, The Tears of Re, a historical look at beekeeping in ancient Egyptian culture by Professor Gene Kritsky, an entomologist at Mount St Joseph’s University.

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“Bees were considered sacred because they were a gift from Re,” Kritsky says. “They were made from his tears, and that gave bees a valuable aspect, not just because of what they contributed and brought to Egyptian society, but also because they were theologically important.”

‘Re’ is the name modern scholars now use for the sun god that was once called ‘Ra.’

The oldest honeybee hieroglyph goes back to just before 3000 BCE, Kritsky says. “It was a very ancient symbol in the Egyptian writings. But even in the Old Kingdom (2600-2160 BCE), beekeeping was an important activity organized by the state.”

Beekeeping-Egypt

Egyptians used honey as a sweetener in their cuisine and it was also used as a medicine.

“They would use honey for cuts and burns,” Kritsky says. “Of the 900 or so prescriptions I found in the various medical papyri, close to 500 of them included honey as one of the ingredients. … They used honey as a way of making the medicine taste a little sweeter, but honey also has antibacterial properties, which probably added medicinal value to the concoctions.”

Scholars also confirm honey’s centrality to Egyptian society by measuring its worth relative to other objects and commodities. Only the higher classes and parts of the royal court would have enjoyed honey, Kritsky says, which clearly tells us something. Honey was also used as a kind of tribute from the various provinces to the Pharaoh.

“A number of papyri talk about the rations given to workers,” Kritsky explains. “We know that people who, for example, worked directly with the Pharaoh would receive an allotment of honey daily, but the laborers did not.”

Ancient Egyptian bee hives were different from the kind of hives used by beekeepers today.

“They certainly were quite amazing,” Kritsky says. “They were horizontal tube hives made out of mud that was dried into large cylinders, which were stacked on top of each other — very similar to the construction of the hives we still see used in Azerbaijan and Iran, for example.”

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Tomb paintings show beekeepers removing round honeycomb from the horizontal hives. The honeycomb was crushed and then placed into containers.

“So, of course, I had to do this,” Kritsky says. “I took honeycomb and I crushed it, and I put it in a container in the hot sun and the beeswax floated to the top and the honey stayed below the beeswax.”

Another relief shows beekeepers holding a vessel with a spout coming from the middle or towards the bottom, Kritsky says — much like a fat separator used for making gravy. “That may be one way they could have decanted a lot of the honey without getting a lot of the wax mixed in with it,” he explains.

In one of the oldest tomb paintings, from 2450 BCE, a beekeeper is holding something to his face, right up against the opening of the hive.

“The hieroglyph above it means “to weaken” or “to slacken” or “to emit a sound,” Kritsky says. “That’s been interpreted as smoking bees, which is a way of quieting bees, or maybe calling to the bees.”

In fact, scholars believe a traditional Egyptian beekeeper practice involved ‘calling’ the queen — making a sound to see if the queen bee would respond. “That would tell them if there was a queen ready to emerge or the status inside the hive,” Kritsky explains. “If that was the case, then their beekeeping was much more sophisticated than we can appreciate.”

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Egyptians had various uses for beeswax, too. Beeswax was used in cosmetics, as well as in paintings, and even in some embalming practices.

Beeswax was also important as a “wonderful, magical substance,” Kritsky says. “Beeswax burns with a very bright light and doesn’t leave any ash. Moreover, if you put beeswax in the hot Egyptian sun, it will start to change. It will get a little molten, a little liquid-y. All of this tied in with their solar theology and would have been important to the Egyptians.”

As a beekeeper himself, Kritsky feels a strong kinship with these ancient Egyptian beekeepers. “It’s a very ancient occupation, because it goes back to ancient Egypt obviously,” he says, “but there’s a kinship between us — humans and bees — that I find very alluring.”

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