Bees and pesticides

Posted: Friday 19 April 2013
by Kate Bradbury

Bees have been in the news a lot lately, as calls to ban neonicotinoid pesticides have reached fever pitch across Europe.

Bumblebee on flower

Bees have been in the news a lot lately, as calls to ban neonicotinoid pesticides have reached fever pitch across Europe. The EU is proposing a temporary ban of their use on crops such as oil seed rape, although some EU countries – including the UK – are resisting this proposal until more research is done.

This family of pesticides includes the chemicals imidacloprid and thiacloprid, which are often the key ingredient in common garden products such as bug sprays and vine weevil drenches. When applied to the seed or plant, these systemic pesticides are absorbed by the plants and are found in small doses in their leaves, roots and stems, but also in their pollen and nectar. Pollen and nectar is, of course, collected and eaten by bees and, as such, the pesticides have long been linked to global bee declines. One scientific study conducted last year found that the number of bumblebee queens produced by each nest was reduced by 85 per cent when exposed to neonicotinoids.

There's a lot of politics surrounding the issue – not least the fear that an outright ban of neonicotinoids will result in smaller crop yields. What's more, the pesticide manufacturers, Bayer, has strenuously denied a link between their products and bee declines. But, while the governments, farmers and industry lobbyists battle the issue out, we gardeners can help create pesticide-free refuges for pollinators in our gardens.

Whether current evidence is enough to sway you or you would like more research to be done before making your mind up, it's clear that this group of pesticides may be contributing to bee and other insect declines. A number of garden centres and DIY stores have already withdrawn products containing neonicotinoids, but if your shed is home to bug sprays and vine weevil drench then why not leave them on the shelf for now, at least until more tests have been done to determine – once and for all – whether these chemicals harm our bees.

You can find a link to products containing neonicotinoids on

In the meantime, wild bees and other pollinators are starting to emerge from hibernation now, hungry after a winter without food. I know they can forage safely in my garden – can they do so in yours?

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Talkback: Bees and pesticides
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oldchippy 19/04/2013 at 09:37

Hi Kate if it is killing the bee's and we eat there honey what could we be eating,a ticking time bomb,Oldchippy.

Obelixx 19/04/2013 at 10:19

You need to worry less about their honey and more about how many of our food plants they pollinate.  Without bees we would be in big trouble.

Kate Bradbury 20/04/2013 at 13:41

Very good point oldchipy - what are we eating? But yes, the loss of bees would dramatically alter the types of food we eat. On top of that, I couldn't imagine a world without bees, it would be miserable!


Outdoor girl 20/04/2013 at 15:27

Yes, obelixx, we do need to think about the effect of the pesticides on our food as well as on all the pollinaters.

Obelixx 20/04/2013 at 16:25

I buy organic fruit, veg, cereals, eggs and honey plus well borught up fish and meat whenever I can and garden organically to produce my own fruit and veg and grow flowers for pollinators such as wild honey bees.   I have signed the petitions to stop the use of nicotinoids in pesticides and I advise members of my garden group never to use pesticide sprays. 

I can't get more worried than that about what we are ingesting in commercially grown foods.

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