Prompted by a local member of Friends of the Earth, I've enthusiastically signed up to the Bee Action Plan to support a concerted effort into stopping the decline of our bee population and restoring some stability.
If we think about it, we all love bees. They are amazing and fascinating insects which play an enormous role in keeping us alive. Without bees, plants do not get pollinated and much of our food would not get grown and imagine how our gardens and countryside would suffer. And of course honey is one of the most nutritious foods available to us.
Bees are under a number of threats. A parasitic mite is attacking honey bees in England and Wales and there are also concerns about the effect of certain pesticides that are being used. The Government is now urgently organising field trials to test out these pesticides to see what effect they are having. They have signed up to the EU ban on neonicotinoids, although we need to continue the testing to make sure we are not going after the wrong ones.
Meanwhile, DEFRA, the department responsible for the environment, is providing £2.5 million over five years (from 2010-2015) towards the £10 million Insect Pollinators Initiative jointly with the Scottish Government and other major scientific research companies. Two projects will specifically focus on honey bees and six will benefit both honey bees and bumblebees. Results are expected next year. On top of that, the Government is providing £100,000 a year for honey bee research looking at control and risk management of honey bee pests and diseases.
We must encourage farmers to provide more forage and nesting sites for bees, including the right mixture of nectar flowers that will help to attract and sustain the population. We also need to see how we can increase the right sort of habitats that provide the right environment for a healthy bee population. Natural England, under its Species Recovery Programme, funds conservation projects to support priority species such as bumblebees.
It is worth noting that London Honey in particular is highly rated because there is such a wide range of different flowers and shrubs that attract bees packed into hundreds of small gardens in a compact area, making it rich pickings for hungry bees. Ealing has its own brand made by East Acton resident John Chapple who, in recognition of his expertise at keeping bees and harvesting their honey, has been appointed Beekeeper to the Queen. Every year I buy a pot of Ealing Honey at the Bedford Park Festival where he can found at a stall packed with honey! I never miss an opportunity.
There is much that the Government is already doing to address this worrying trend. But it is also really important that we spread awareness amongst the public about this threat. Bees are a vital part of our existence. We often think of them gently humming amongst the flowers during the summer months with a sense of pure pleasure, but we sometimes forget that that gentle sound is also the busy noise of these small creatures labouring not just for themselves, but for all of us.