Are Bees 'Green Crap'?

17/10/2014 13:05 BST | Updated 16/12/2014 10:59 GMT

When I was a child my mother used to pay me half a crown - 12.5 pence - to wash her car each week. I used to wash every bit of it except for one particular piece at the front of about one square foot. I kept that as a "before and after" shot to show my mother what a good job I'd done and I chose that particular spot at the front of the car because it was always covered in thousands of dead insects.

Today the cars are no longer covered in thousands of dead insects. Today we have cleaner cars - but the insects are gone. And as the insects have disappeared so have the birds. And as the insects continue to disappear so does the yield from our crops. Because some of the insecticides that farmers use to increase yield kill, not only the insects that destroy the crops, but also the insects that pollinate them.

It is not only insecticides. Since the 1930s, we have lost 97% of our wildflower meadows. If you take away one of the fundamental habitats that provide a food source to pollinators you shouldn't wonder if any wonder that we see a decline in butterflies, moths, beetles and other pollinators?


Well, they opposed the European ban on the neonicotinoids which scientists say are harming bees and other pollinators and they even supported efforts to undermine the ban. The Government said that a ban on neonicotinoids could cripple the economy, but this ignored the direct value of pollination services to UK farmers and the natural environment which has been calculated at over £400million. They decided to withdraw from a pan-European research project on honey bee decline - further evidence of this Government's allergy to sound science. They also failed to include pollinator-specific measures in their 'greening' of agricultural subsidy.

For this Government the environment and the economy are always seen to be in conflict. They seem to believe that they have to sacrifice our environment and our wellbeing for the sake of short-term economic growth when in fact economists now tell us that economic growth is actually dependent upon what they call Natural Capital.


There are three key decisions this government should have taken:

the decision to adopt a science-based policy on insecticides;

the decision to acquire new evidence on pollinator decline;

and the decision to create more space for nature.

The next Labour Government will prioritise these three things. We will establish baseline data on the health of our pollinator population and use that data to target a series of measures to reverse their decline. We will make space for nature and space for people in nature respecting the science and looking at our ecosystem as a whole.

We will review the way public money is spent to ensure that public goods like pollination are conserved rather than eroded. We will review forestry spending to deliver wildlife corridors through our towns and cities.

This government is presiding over the unravelling of the fabric of nature. On our small part of the planet our approach to pollinators is a local example of what is a growing, global 'biodiversity crisis'. Sir David Attenborough has talked about this crisis leading not only to great physical impoverishment but to great spiritual impoverishment as well. It is hard to imagine a world without bees. It would be even harder to live in it.