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Posted by: Michael Williams - AIEEM BSc (Hons) on 30/01/2013

It is widely acknowledged that bees are among the most important pollinators, and concerns have been raised as to declines of many species in recent years. The last week has seen two important announcements that could benefit our native honey and bumblebees.

Common Carder Bumblebee

Common Carder Bumblebee (Bombus pascuorum)

Firstly, Natural England have announced a new licensing regime to control the use of non-native bumblebees for commercial pollination. Importation of non-native bumblebees, mostly foreign subspecies of the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) has led to them competing and breeding native bees and introducing diseases and parasites. Currently a General Licence is required to use non-native bumblebees for pollination, however the new system will involve registration of the release premises, a disease-screening protocol, only permitting their use for enclosed environments such as greenhouses and polytunnels, destruction of non-native colonies after use and fines for unlicensed releases. Monitoring of the impacts on wildlife and disease patterns will also be undertaken.

Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee

Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus vestalis)

The second announcement concerns neonicotinoid pesticides, long thought to be a significant factor in the decline of pollinators such as honey bees (Apis mellifera). The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) stated last week that neonicotinoid pesticides should not be used on crops attractive to honey bees. This is a significant step to avoid damage to wild and commercial bee populations. Previously, Defra and the UK Advisory Committee on Pesticides have previously stated that they have confidence in the safety of neonicotinoid pesticides, however this announcement will put pressure on them to consider whether UK farmers can continue to use them. Honeybees are attracted to a range of flowering plants, and any moves to protect them from these pesticides may benefit other pollinators also.

On a final note, ecologists from Ecosulis noted an unusually high number of queen bumblebees flying in and around Bath in the first half of January, before the snow hit us. Queens of two species, the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) and the red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) have been sited in Bath City Centre, Twerton and the Ecosulis office garden in Newton St Loe. We can only hope that they are now tucked up somewhere warm and dry, away from the snow and ice. The Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) have recently launched a new campaign to record winter observations of the buff-tailed bumblebee – click here for more information and to submit a record.

Categories: Biodiversity Research
Tags: Bumblebees | Natural England | Pollinators
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