UK Bee Population

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 14th November 2017.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham 4:30 pm, 14th November 2017

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the UK bee population.

Thank you for calling me, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I know that the House and indeed the country is engaged on the great issue of Brexit, an issue on which of course everyone has a great deal to say. I called for this debate because, now more than ever, we need to have a public conversation about the kind of country we want to build for the future. What does the Britain of 20 years hence look like? Does it have stronger environmental protections or weaker ones? We need to lift our eyes beyond the latest parliamentary skirmish and say a little about that.

Before I turn to the specific issue of bees, I want to say a little about the wider environmental narrative. There are many on the Government Benches who make a direct link between conservatism and conservation. I believe, as I know many of my colleagues do, that generational justice must be about more than simply leaving a strong economic legacy to our children. It must be about a strong environmental legacy, too: a birthright that is richer, more diverse and more sustainable. As the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said, we have “not a freehold” on our planet but “a full repairing lease”.

Although there are many aspects to that responsibility, from improving air quality to cutting the use of plastic and limiting greenhouse gas emissions, a key priority must be to improve the diversity and sustainability of native animals, from the largest mammal to the smallest invertebrate. We have seen great progress on that score, with the important announcement on ivory sales that was part of a package of measures that led a leading charity to declare in October

“a fortnight of incredible news for animal welfare in the UK”.

To turn to bees, well, what a difference a week makes. When I originally applied for the debate, it was in a bid to urge the Government to listen to the latest scientific evidence, put the welfare of bees first and ban neonicotinoids. Then, lo and behold, the Government have done precisely that. On 9 November, just a few days ago, the Secretary of State indicated that he supports further restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids due to their effects on bees and other pollinators. That was a bold and clear decision. In doing so—if I may be impish for a moment—he has shown that rigorous scientific evidence will underpin the Government’s approach to the environment. While some might have had enough of experts in 2016, I am delighted that, in 2017, they are back with a vengeance.

Why do bees matter? First, they are exceptional animals in their own right. Although there are over 250 species of bee, including 25 species of bumblebee, they have some remarkable characteristics in common. For example, a bee can navigate in an astonishingly sophisticated way by a combination of using the angle of the sun, counting landmarks and exploiting electrical fields. Remarkably, they can exchange information with other bees about the precise location of the perfect flower. Some evidence suggests they do so using movements known as a “waggle dance.”

Beyond their own intrinsic value, bees play a vital role in the broader environment. That role was summarised beautifully by the poet Kahlil Gibran:

“To the bee, a flower is the fountain of life.

And to the flower, the bee is a messenger of love.”