Nature and the diversity of animals and plants is in free fall. Fewer insects which have led to fewer birds and who knows what other consequences. A tipping point has been reached where Government has been forced to act. Biodiversity has been declining for decades had has seen a 68% decline in global wildlife populations since 1970. One third of the UK’s bee population has disappeared over the past decade declining at a faster rate than other wildlife populations. Studies in the USA show a 60% reduction in bee hives since 1947. Only Government action can help reverse this trend.
As from the end of September 2020 UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledges to increase the area of protected land like National Parks to allow plants and animals to establish themselves again.
Why are things at a tipping point?
Experts are concerned that certain farming practices and other activities are meddling with the food chain and could have far reaching consequences. People sit at the top of the food chain, but that’s because people are clever. For the same reason it’s important that Governments lead the way to prevent the success of people from becoming detrimental to all other living plants and creatures on the planet. Walking in National parks in the height of summer it is striking that there are so few insects and birds. Even within National Parks the sky is eerily quite and plants that depend on insect pollinators are few and far between.
How can this be?
Population growth and economic growth are peas in the same pod. Often Government seeks economic growth in part through population growth. Growing populations require support through ample food supply. As Government has a constitutional role (those that have a written or implicit constitution) in protecting and regulating food supply it’s Governments that have allowed the the process of getting food from field to home to get distorted. Distorted by a desire to increase productivity gains (a well meaning pursuit of modern economic planing) by goosing farming yields through the use of certain farming practices. Consumers have turned a blind eye to this because ‘the masses’ get affordable produce at supermarkets helping to keep price inflation under control.
For those wanting to pin a label to this phenomenon may want to use the words corporate nationalism as a possible cause, whereby, members of a political culture raise the importance of companies, commercial enterprise, and economic planning. Economic planning encourages farmers to increase productivity through using pesticides and herbicides purchased from corporations: in the interest of the national good. Providing ample food supplies at an affordable price where the consumer is king. If it wasn’t for the negative consequences for nature this would be great.
What’s this got to do with honey bees?
Honey bees are an important part of insect pollinators who fly untiringly from plant to plant in search of nectar and pollen to make honey as a means of keeping the bee hive alive. Pollen sacks on the honey bees crammed to the top with pollen is flown from one flower to the next. Pollen is rubbed off onto other plants which then get pollinated allowing them to reproduce. Doing no harm to farms what so ever. Other insects, however, are the sworn enemy of farmers due to the devastating affects they have on harvests and farmers’ income. Farmers as a group have solved the problems of pests using a solution promoted by corporations facilitated by Government. Let us use Imidacloprid as an example. Yes difficult to pronounce, but, it is the most widely used insecticide in the world. Primary manufactured by Bayer CropScience, Imidacloprid, is a insect neurotoxin in a class of chemicals known as neonics (or Neonicotinoids for the long name).
Neonics has become a victim of their own success, because they work better than alternative pesticides that have direct negative affects on birds and they break down in the environment. As a result of it’s positive characteristics neonics have been used more and more.
Neonics easily travel in water through the plants’ equivalent of a vascular system entering the nectar and pollen of plants. Honey Bees are polluted by Neonics in ways still being studied and have been identified as the cause of devastating ecological effects such as honey-bee colony collapse disorder. So far no negative consequences have been reported for humans.
Action is being taken against Neonics but this group of chemicals is big business and forms a small part of the tool kit available to farmers to help increase yields. Actions include restricting the use of certain Neonics and changing farming practices.
What does the recent announcement from the Government actually mean?
ScrummyHoney believes it’s another step in the right direction and shows Government is listening and starting to take action. UK Government and others will need to strike a fine balance between changing farming practices on one hand and the role played by Government at all levels in helping get a variety of food from field to home at an affordable price.
More information is needed to describe how increasing the area of protected land will increase biodiversity and there isn’t much information explaining what being protected actually means or what the guidelines are for National Parks. No doubt it’s difficult to persuade large land owners and large farms to change their farming practices when it squeezes profit margins. Take Beeswax Dyson Farming limited as an example. Yes, this huge farming enterprise is owned by Sir James Dyson, the inventor of the Dyson vacuum cleaner.
Money made from this successful invention has been invested in consolidating farmland. That is to say buying up farms, making the fields bigger, and focusing on fewer crops and juicing production by using herbicides and insecticides. Oil seed rape is the UK’s third largest crop. Marketed as a healthier cooking oil, used in animal feed and used for bio-diesel (marketed as being a more environmentally friendly fuel). Beeswax Dyson Farming limited is one of the UK’s largest farmers of rapeseed because it produces such high yields (the amount of crop per area of land) and there is always demand. Dyson Farms are reducing production of oil seed rape due to the devastating effects of cabbage stem flea beetle on crop yields. Treatment of rapeseed using neonicatinoid dressing has recently been banned which has caused the resurgence of cabbage stem flea beetle made worse by having mega fields full of oil seed rape. An example of where the pursuit of profit margin has a negative impact on farming practice and consequently on biodiversity.
Mr Dyson will not be earning as much from his oil seed rape crop moving forward and may be pulling out of oil seed rape all together. Mr Dyson is a multi Billionaire and his farming operations are valued at £500m or slightly less after the decreased crop yields resulting from the ban on nicotinoid dressing of crop seeds. Supporters of big business such as Mr Dyson’s should not worry because he has received over £5 million in European farming subsidies for landholdings since the 2016 referendum. Mr Dyson is also one of the UK’s largest land owners through his farming enterprise. Other major beneficiaries of EU farming subsidies include The National Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Perhaps more of these funds should be used to diversity farming practices away from mega fields, hedge row depletion, and over use of chemicals, for which the knock on affects are only starting to be investigated. More transparency is required about what large landowners are doing to help balance the negative affects of intensive farming practice.
How can people help?
We’re in a free market economy so buying organic may help. Demand should encourage more supply. You’ll notice there’s not a lot of British organic honey available.
Support organisations which promote organic farming like the Soil association.
Support organisations that have a solid tree planting policy like The National Trust or Friends of the Earth. Join pressure groups to persuade large landowners to improve their environmental policies.
Tree planting will have multiple benefits including helping transform habitats and help the UK meet it’s ambitious carbon emissions targets.
Add plants and flowers in the garden that bees love. Get the children involved.