My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. I thoroughly enjoyed his speech, which widened our debate hugely. We are all learning so much this afternoon. I am trying to work out which is the better image of him: eating his honey or riding his motorbike. It was a tremendous contribution.
I, too, compliment the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, on tabling this debate. Again, I learned an awful lot from her. I think she will learn a little from me, but I learned an awful lot from her. I am now anxious about rhododendron ponticum, which I fear I have quite a bit of as well. Hers was a comprehensive coverage of the topic and set the scene wonderfully well for the debate today. If the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is looking for a swarm, he knows the old adage: a swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon, but a swarm of bees in July is not worth a fly—so he will have to get cracking if he is to get his swarm organised.
I cannot tell you what joy I found as a schoolboy in simply understanding and marvelling at the life history of Apis mellifera, the honey bee. It was explained to me just once in great detail. I was immediately enthralled and have never forgotten it. The role of workers, drones and queens, the mystery that is royal jelly, and how workers run the hive, find their food and communicate with each other is all quite magical.
This leads to the crucial part they play in our lives: for the most part unnoticed and unheralded. Without their pollinating efforts, our fruit and vegetable production, which has been touched on several times today, would be devastated and our world would be a very different and darker place.
Our bees are constantly under threat, and it is vital that we do all we can to make everyone aware of their importance and vulnerability, in both countryside and town. I commend all the organisations such as Buglife, which has already been mentioned, involved in this work.
Although there has been an overall decline in different kinds of bees over the past 50 years, recent trends in our managed population are better. The Varroa mite did terrible damage to our hives in the 1990s, but now the number of hives and the number of colonies is significantly increasing. I commend the Government on their positive approach to this issue. Both the present Secretary of State and our Minister are showing real understanding, concern and readiness to act.
I particularly commend the Government’s national pollination strategy, which brings together all those people and organisations able to influence the landscape and habitats, which are so precious. I am also glad that we will be tougher on the use of neonicotinoids—although, after the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, I am a little wiser and will give it some more thought. But I am sure it is right to be tougher on them and I firmly believe in the precautionary principle.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned a campaign called BeeConnected, run by the Voluntary Initiative, which in turn is funded by the agricultural sector. Time does not allow me to elaborate, but, put simply, it is a system that allows crop sprayers automatically to notify beekeepers that spraying will take place where they have hives to allow them to take appropriate action. To me, that sounds very sensible.
We must be—and I know that the Government are—ever alert to the threat of invasion by dangerous species. In trees, we keep a wary eye on Xyllella fastidiosa and the emerald ash borer, which threaten our shores. We have already had an incursion by the Asian hornet, which eats bees. Fortunately, so far, it has been kept at bay.
I end, therefore, as someone who loves both trees and bees, by telling your Lordships that the tree bumblebee, which has the wonderful Latin name Bombus hypnorum, has arrived here under its own steam and has spread quite rapidly. It does not appear to be damaging any of our native bee population, and it is a very effective pollinator—so, as far as I am concerned, it is very welcome.