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Bee Population - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:06 pm on 19th June 2018.

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Photo of Lord Marland Lord Marland Conservative 7:06 pm, 19th June 2018

My Lords, I must confess that a smile plays on my lips as we are about to enjoy this debate with Brexit raging around our ears, and we discuss the most calming and generous of insects. I congratulate my noble friend on tabling the debate. It is also appropriate that we should be discussing this in National Insect Week, which was opened yesterday by the Royal Horticultural Society. So well done to my noble friend—very good timing and top of the class, as you always were at school, of course.

Over the last 10 years or more, I have been a keen but not always diligent beekeeper. As someone who is not noted for his patience, beekeeping is for me a life lesson in how to control one’s impatience and intolerance. Some people say that my best look is when I am behind the visor of my beekeeping unit. It all started when I suffered from hay fever and was told that, if you eat your own honey, you do not suffer any more. How true that was—it immediately vanished when I produced my first crop. I am a proud garden owner and part-time gardener, and the work of bees and cross-pollination of my plants has had a splendiferous effect on my garden, for which I appreciate their presence.

For those of us at the moment who are, shall we say, tense with Brexit, what a marvellous life example bees and their colonies give to us. Their hierarchy is somewhat awesome—and the discipline of their roles and the energy and productivity of these insects is quite remarkable, whether it is the solitary bee, like the bumble bee, or those that form colonies, whether they be masonry bees, of which I have many, or the common honey bee. For the honey bee, what a life it is. The drone is basically a lazy man who, for a short period, impregnates the queen and sits back with the equivalent of a big cigar and a deckchair and lets the women do the rest of the work. The worker bees are, of course, infertile. They create the hives and make the honey. Twice a year, if I am lucky, I can take honey off my hive; I hope to do it this Friday. I will put it into my new electric spinner—the lesson is always have an electric spinner—and the fruits of my labour, and theirs, will be satisfied.

As noble Lords across the Chamber have enunciated so beautifully, it is not as easy as it seems. It has been a struggle for these great insects. My own hives have suffered from Varroa mites and were reduced from five to two. Happily, we are now back up to three. The problem of pesticides from neighbouring farmers has been mentioned. My noble friend Lord Ryder told me, as I came into the Chamber earlier today, that he had found 24 bumble bee nests in his neighbourhood destroyed by the badger. If you live in the countryside, those are the perils for the bee.

I am happy to see that the population, including mine, is on the increase again. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about preservation and the Government’s plans for helping us humble beekeepers to create the most beautiful and delicious product.