Steps to halt decline of bee population should be supported

Ban on pesticides will affect bumblebee species in Ireland

Tue, May 7, 2013, 06:00

The insufficiently studied precipitate decline of bee populations and colony losses worldwide in the last 15 years have become a major source of concern – bees which are vital to ecosystems are estimated to contribute some €22 billion annually to European agriculture alone. The decline is put down to a variety of causes: disease, viruses, climate change and loss of habitat and nutrition. One important reason may be the intensification of agriculture and specifically pesticides.

In response to a number of scientific studies and prodding from the European Food Safety Agency, and following the failure of member-states to agree on a ban (Ireland abstained), the European Commission has used its special powers now to institute a two-year ban on three pesticides, neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used insecticides.

In Ireland the ban is likely particulary to affect bumblebee populations in the 16,000 hectares under oilseed rape where neonicotinoids are widely used. There are 101 bee species here – 19 bumblebee species – 42 of which have declined by more than half.

A TCD study due out in coming weeks will show that there are hundreds of bumble bee colonies living in oilseed rape fields in Ireland, as well as large numbers of other pollinators including honey bees, solitary bees and hoverflies. These insects increased the crop’s yield by up to about 30 per cent, researcher Dara Stanley says. Unfortunately, however, there have as yet been no studies by the Department of Agriculture on the effects of neonicotinoids.

Opponents of the ban, and the pesticide producers, say the EU decision is not evidence-based and warn that farmers may simply substitute more toxic alternatives. But some of the studies on which the Commission has relied link neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queen bees produced and big rises in the numbers of “disappeared” bees, those that fail to return from foraging trips. The EU’s application of the precautionary principle should be supported.