Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Beeware, bee very aware

It is well-known that the bee and many other insects are in decline in the UK and elsewhere. In recent decades, we have seen losses affecting over 80% of our butterfly species, crashes in honey bee colonies and the extinction of at least two bumble bee species. So what, some might ask, they are only insects. We can do without them. Oh no, we can't: let's not forget that 80% of plant species in Europe are insect pollinated, including important foodstuff crops, fruit trees and wild plants. The value of pollinators cannot be underestimated or ignored because they play a very important part, indeed an essential part, in our ecosystem; more important than most people will know or believe.

Sadly, it's not often that I can say something positive about Cornwall Council but I'll make an exception now as I've just become aware of a recent initiative of theirs which has resulted in a report about what the Council can do to help the bee. The report lead to a debate at a meeting of the full council and the following recommendations were approved (forgive the 'council speak' as I thought it worth copying verbatim from the council's website):
  1. A letter be drafted to express that ‘This Council calls upon the Government to fund extensive research into the hazards of glyphosate and neonicotinoids on human health and the environment’;
  1. In a proactive effort to reverse the destruction of the bees and pollinators and to protect human health, Cornwall Council ceases the use of neonicotinoids and ceases the use of glyphosate, as funding becomes available for alternative treatments, on all public access land (to include office, depot, housing surroundings, highways, street scene and natural environment assets) that it owns or manages or is managed by its arm’s length companies, with the exception of use for the control of Schedule 9 plants under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, such as Japanese Knotweed, or where it is used to reduce material risks to asset integrity.  Cornwall Council to review the impacts of this in 2018;
  1. Work be undertaken with the Farms Panel and the Housing and Environment and Planning Policy Advisory Committees towards achieving a reduction in usage of neonicotinoids and glyphosates on County Farms through a detailed and ongoing review of good practice and evidence, engaging with the farming sector and its representatives.
  1. Cornwall Council ceases the use of neonicotinoids and glyphosate on land developed for capital projects, with the exception of use in the control of Schedule 9 plants under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, such as Japanese Knotweed, or where it is used to reduce material risks to asset integrity;
  1. Cornwall Council prepares and implements a Pollinators Action Plan;
It's a good start and I'll be watching progress with interest. Why do I have a problem believing that they will actually follow their fine words with concrete actions? Precedent and past performance, that's why.

But following the Council's example, there are things that I can, and will do, in our garden to help bees and other pollinators. I don't use pesticides (oh, what fun I have picking caterpillars off my brassicas and gooseberries) and I have some 'untamed' areas that are wildlife friendly. Where I think improvements can be made is in the provision of more pollinator friendly flowers. I'm going to give this a little more thought and make it a project for 2017. And that sounds suspiciously like a New Year's Resolution.

I thought I'd finish with a little bee-related music but spurned the most obvious - Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee. Here's two less familiar apiary-themed tunes to enjoy: Arthur Askey doing his Busy Busy Bee routine (oh, how we laughed at him, long ago) and Liberace playing Bumble Boogie. Two mysteries here: how come Arthur Askey could build a very successful career on not being funny and how come Liberace could be as camp as he was and still convince people he was straight? Who cared when he could play the way he did?

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