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Lords debates decline of honey bees

10 January 2013

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Members of the Lords debated the decline in honey bees in 2012 and measures to combat the prevalence of disease in bee colonies yesterday (Thursday 9 January).

Lord Moynihan (Conservative) who requested and opened the debate explained: 'The number of beekeepers has doubled in the past 10 years, with impressive developments in urban areas. There has been a corresponding growth in awareness and public concern regarding honey bees. However, I have tabled this motion for debate because there is real and serious cause for concern about the plight of bees in recent years, as well as wider concerns about pollinators and pollution.'

The use of pesticides has long been recognised as a serious problem. The neonicotinoid group of chemicals is widely used and may be having a serious and deleterious effect on honey bees, ' he said.

Baroness Byford (Conservative), associate member of the Royal Agricultural Society, and President of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), said: 'For many years, it has been suggested that treatments applied to plants and the land to improve the quality and quantity of agricultural produce were the cause of deaths among birds, small animals and wildlife. We now know that many things that are recommended for the lessening or eradication of one problem may well worsen another. It is therefore surely right that the research continues.'

She continued: 'In September last year, a Defra report stated that the use of pesticides was not unequivocally linked to bee deaths. Continuous review of research is essential if we are to reduce this infection in the bee population.'

Lord Rea (Labour), an amateur beekeeper, said: 'There is a recent report from the policy department of the European Parliament, published last month... It is entitled Existing Scientific Evidence of the Effects of Neonicotinoid Pesticides on Bees and it gives a very up-to-date picture of current research.'

He continued: 'The case seems to be clear that the use of these chemicals should be reduced and/or further controlled. Those that are shown to be most damaging should be banned.'

Lord de Mauley (Conservative), Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State  for Resource Management, the Local Environment and Environmental Science, responded by saying: 'Last year was described as the most difficult beekeeping year ever, even by experienced beekeepers, and the annual honey crop is estimated to be down - as I think my noble friend Lord Moynihan said - by more than 70% compared with 2011. Therefore, we are taking this very seriously and are taking action to improve honeybee health and support beekeeping for the future.'

He explained: 'The main focus of our efforts in protecting bee health is through the work of the National Bee Unit, which is acknowledged as having one of the best bee health surveillance programmes in Europe, with a global reputation for excellence.'

Referring to the previous government's Healthy Bees Plan and a survey of bee health taken between 2009 and 2011 he explained the government began a review as results were made available. He announced: '...we are launching a consultation seeking views on the proposals which emerged from this review. These proposals build on current policies and, importantly, set the future direction for pest and disease control.'

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