I congratulate Ben Howlett and the many petitioners on raising this important subject; I can report that many of my constituents are positively buzzing with excitement at the prospect of this debate.
We all agree that we need bees: they pollinate our food crops and wild flowers and play an essential role in supporting wider biodiversity. As we all know, however, their numbers have declined dramatically. DEFRA described the trend as “severe” and admitted that the sharp decline in England is greater than that experienced by any other country in Europe. We have lost more than 20 species of bees in just over a century, and 35 bee species are considered to be under threat of extinction. This is clearly a very serious issue.
The reasons for the problem are complex and many. They include habitat change, the spread of pests, diseases and invasive species, and climate change. The list goes on, and its breadth is intimidating to lay people. Those multiple pressures and stresses are sometimes linked and interrelated, so our responses must be sophisticated, but there is one contributory cause that could and should be tackled now: the use of pesticides, and in particular of neonicotinoid pesticides.
As we have heard, neonicotinoids have been used widely by farmers in the UK for pest control purposes on a range of agricultural and horticultural crops—in particular, as seed treatments on oilseed rape, cereals, sugar beet and maize. Neonicotinoids act on the brains and nervous systems of insects, including bees, and affect motor function, feeding, learning, homing, foraging and reproduction.
Two years ago, the European Union restricted the use of three types of neonicotinoid pesticide—a move supported by the majority of EU member states, but, ironically, not by the “greenest ever” coalition Government, who were one of just a handful of member states to oppose the measure. That decision flew in the face of hard, sound evidence. Indeed, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the three commonly used neonicotinoids posed an unacceptable danger and
“A high acute risk to honey bees”.
It recommended a full ban on all neonicotinoids.