New research unveiled by Friends of the Earth this week has revealed the cost of hand pollinating crops in the absence of bees, which could be as much as £29 million for Birmingham, as it unveils a new campaign to save the bee.
West Midlands farming could be seriously at risk without urgent Government action to protect the bee population – the insects pollinate around £70 million worth of total crop sales in the region.
The national cost of hand pollination would be £1.8 billion every year, 20% more than previously thought according to the research conducted by leading bee experts at the University of Reading on behalf of the environment charity as it launches The Bee Cause campaign to call for action on bees before it’s too late.
Costly hand-pollination is already being used in parts of the world, notably pear trees in Hanyuan County, China, where native bee populations have been wiped out by a combination of loss of their natural habitat and intensive farming.
In recent years Britain has lost over half the honey bees kept in managed hives and wild honey bees are nearly extinct. Solitary bees are declining in more than half the areas they’ve been studied and some species of bumblebee have been lost altogether.
Friends of the Earth is urging David Cameron to act now to support these important pollinators and save the nation billions by committing to a national bee action plan. The plan outlines action on the planning of our towns, the way we farm and use pesticides and funding for nature experts in the Government to ensure vital bee populations are restored.
Locally, the Birmingham group are taking action to make the city more bee friendly – providing information and resources on how people can help bees in their gardens and communities, including giving away 20,000 packets of wildflower seeds, and calling on the city council to take measures such as providing vital food for bees with wildflowers in parks and the city centre. The group are also holding a series of bee-themed events over the summer including poetry evenings, bee walks, waggle-dances and family days to raise awareness of the issue.
Kara Moses, Campaigner for Birmingham Friends of the Earth said: ‘Bees pollinate three quarters of the world’s most important crops – if their numbers continue to fall we could be faced with major food shortages and rocketing food prices.
‘Without bees and other pollinators, farmers throughout the West Midlands and beyond would have to hand-pollinate their crops at a massive cost that would be passed on to the consumer.’
‘There are plenty of really simple ways that we can help the bees in Birmingham, such as planting wildflowers in our gardens, parks and city centres and making our gardens bee friendly – see our website for more ideas.’
Notes to editors
1. The campaign website www.foe.co.uk/bees will be live from the early hours of Wednesday 11 April.
2. On Wednesday 11 April, Friends of the Earth is transforming an area outside the National Theatre on the South Bank in Central London into a temporary British wildflower meadow. Later in the day the thousands of wildflowers and plants will be given away to passers-by to plant in their own gardens, to create thousands of new bee-friendly habitats across London. Photos available.
3. £1.8 billion to hand-pollinate – reference Breeze et al, 2012 – Chapter 4, work prepared by the University of Reading, to be published soon.
4. The number of managed honeybee colonies in the UK fell by 53% between 1985 and 2005 (Potts et al, 2010a) and wild honeybees are nearly extinct (Carreck, 2008). Solitary bee diversity has declined in 52% of UK landscapes (Beismeijer et al, 2006).
5. Pear trees in China – reference Ya (2001), ‘Hand pollination of pears and its implications for biodiversity conservation and environmental protection – A case study from Hanyuan County’, Sichuan Province, China.
6. In 2007 the National Audit Office assessed the value of honeybees to the UK economy at £200m a year with the retail value of the crops they pollinate put closer to £1bn.
7. For more season-by-season bee-friendly plants, visit http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/Sustainable-gardening/pdfs/RHS_Pollinators_PlantList.
8. For more than 40 years we’ve seen that the wellbeing of people and planet go hand in hand – and it’s been the inspiration for our campaigns. Together with thousands of people like you we’ve secured safer food and water, defended wildlife and natural habitats, championed the move to clean energy and acted to keep our climate stable. Be a Friend of the Earth – see things differently. To find out more visit our website at www.foe.co.uk.