Last updated: September 2014
Paul De Zylva from Friends of the Earth on their bee campaign.
When did it start?
We launched the campaign in April 2012, creating a pop-up wildflower garden on London’s South Bank to raise awareness of the plight of British bees, who’ve lost 97% of their wildflower meadow habitats in the past 60 years.
How many people have joined the Bee Cause campaign?
People have got behind the campaign really enthusiastically, with around 300,000 actions taken over the past couple of years. They’ve shown their support for bees in all sorts of ways, from backing a national Bee Action Plan to calling for beeharming pesticides to be banned.
What has been its greatest achievement?
Our aim was to convince the Government to introduce a national Bee Action Plan for all bee species, not just honey bees, and to fully tackle all the threats bees face, especially habitat loss, toxic pesticides and how land is developed. By building a coalition of hundreds of MPs, businesses like B&Q, and groups like the Women’s Institute, as well as huge public support, we persuaded the Bees Minister to agree to this in June 2013. Since then, we’ve been working hard to ensure that this Bee Action Plan, known as the National Pollinator Strategy (NPS), is robust enough to reverse the decline of all species of bee and pollinator. It launched at the end of 2014.
What has been the most interesting action that campaigners have undertaken?
People have been able to have a lot of fun with the Bee Cause campaign. Our giant bees have created a buzz on high streets around the country and at events like Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Show. Our local volunteers have run popular awareness-raising community events, such as ‘bee walks’ examining their area from a bee’s perspective, and ‘bee teas’ where only bee-pollinated food is served (think strawberry jam, Bakewell Tart).
What do you think about the Government’s new action plan on bees?
It’s great that the Government has committed to a National Pollinator Strategy. Now the test is whether it will be strong enough to do the job, especially on supporting farmers to manage their land in ways that are beneficial to bees and pollinators, and reducing the use of bee-harming pesticides. 70% of UK land is farmed, so getting this right is pivotal to protecting bee health. And without bees, UK farmers would face a £1.8billion annual bill to hand-pollinate crops.
Is the campaign about honey bees?
In the UK we have 267 bee species including the honey bee. There are 24 species of wild bumble bee and the rest are solitary bees. Aside from enjoying honey, it’s important to remember that other bee species play a crucial role in keeping our parks blooming and putting food on our plates. Many crops would be off the menu without cross-pollination by a diverse range of bee species.
What’s the problem with pesticides and the best way to tackle its rising use in the UK?
Pesticides are designed to kill insects. The system for testing pesticides before they get licensed for use on crops and in gardens has been found to be flawed, because products aren’t tested on a wide enough range of bees and other pollinating insects. For example, testing on honey bees won’t reveal the potential risk to wild bumble bees. In addition, although the average arable field in the UK is applied with a cocktail of at least 20 different chemicals, pesticides aren’t tested for their combined effect.
You recently conducted a Great British Bee Count, tell us about your findings.
This citizen science project aimed to help scientists build a nationwide picture of bee health. More than 33,000 people downloaded our free smartphone app and logged sightings of more than 800,000 bees over the summer giving a big picture of where different species are to be found. We’ve been impressed by the massive public appetite to learn more about these fascinating species. We hope to make the Great British Bee Count an annual event so that over time comparable data can help to answer key questions about bee health.
What is the most important thing that people can do to help protect bees?
Make sure there are enough different types of pollinator-friendly plants in your garden or community all year round, from crocus in the spring to ivy in the autumn. Even if you only have a window box, you can help bees by growing tasty herbs like chives, marjoram, basil and thyme – they’ll be great in salads too. The RHS Perfect for Pollinators list is a good place to start. Kick the pesticide habit, if you have one.
What are your future plans for the campaign?
We will track how well the Government’s National Pollinator Strategy is working. And we’ll continue to encourage people, communities and businesses to create more Bee Worlds across the nation. Working with local groups and other organisations, we hope to see lots of positive action, such as councils making sure they plan developments and manage public spaces and road verges in bee-friendly ways.