I am seeing hundreds of bees on the ground every day either dying or already dead. The ones still alive appear confused, endlessly walking around in circles before being killed by the cold of the night.
Most of them have pollen attached to their legs because the essential pollination work of the Spring has begun.
The fields around me have been coming to life over the last few weeks with the colourful blossoms of the endless orchards: apples, peaches, pears & plums. And wherever there are flowers there are bees.
Why are they dying?
Neonicotinoid pesticides designed to kill insects which eat crops are also killing the pollinators, which means it is not only bees they are affecting, but insects & animals of many kinds including butterflies, flies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds & bats.
Invented in the 1980s, neonicotinoids quickly became a popular crop treatment because they are systemic, meaning that they circulate through the whole plant killing bugs as soon as they eat any part of the crop.
It is evident now that systemic insecticides find their way into the nectar and pollen of a flowering plant which unquestionably affects the insects which carry it.
Why is this important?
Over three-quarters of the world’s food crops are dependent (at least in part) on pollination by insects.
Should they go extinct, we would lose the ability to pollinate crops for essential high nutrition food, cotton based clothing, plant based medicine (like morphine which originates with the poppy), biofuel would disappear without Canola and even many cosmetics would disappear without honey.
This will lead to wide-scale malnutrition and the skyrocketing of prices. The ensuing chaos would likely lead to the death of many humans.
Potentially ALL of us!
To measure this potential harm a team of European researchers recently established 33 sites growing rapeseed in Germany, Hungary and the UK. These sites were randomly assigned to either be treated with one of two choice nicotinoids... or none at all.
What they found was that the pesticides do not kill the bees directly if received in a low level. Instead it makes them more vulnerable, especially if there are other environmental factors or diseases already affecting the hive. It affects their ability to reproduce, often leading to birth defects and inability to perform the normal tasks required of them.
Neonicotinoid applications are thus a kind of reproductive roulette for bees," Jeremy Kerr (biodiversity researcher)
Another field study by researchers in Canada was published in the same issue of Science and it also confirms the negative affect on bees. Their results showed that chronically exposed bees had a lower life expectancy and poorer hygiene conditions in the hive.
They also discovered that pollen on the insects often didn't even come from the treated crops.
This indicates that neonicotinoids, which are water soluble, spill over from agricultural fields into the surrounding environment, where they are taken up by other plants that are very attractive to bees. Nadia Tsvetkov
The work done by these two teams demonstrates that we really are contributing to the worldwide bee decline... and way more dramatically than we would like to admit.
The world is waking up
This subject has been finding its way to the headlines more and more over the last few years.
The first of the two studies I mentioned above was largely funded by the pesticide industry itself. Bayer Crop Science & Syngenta put up US$3 million for the trial and the European Union is set to make a decision about a potential blanket ban of these pesticides.
A ban could be in place by the end of this year if the proposals are approved by a majority of EU member states and whilst this is a very positive sign, let us pray it is not too little too late.
Seeing all these dead or dying bees here in the South of France it is clear something needs to be done quickly. The farmers in this region are either ignorant to this information or they simply don't care.
Or... as is very often the case, their financial situation does not permit them any other route.
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