UCC Green Campus Intern, Killian Kelly, on what the new EU-wide ban on neonicotinoid pesticides might mean for UCC’s newest residents.

The Problem

The past decade has seen widening concern globally over the sudden plummet in bee populations. Although a number of possibilities behind such drastic declines were argued, little agreement could be found by the vast amount of beekeepers and scientists examining the phenomenon. In recent years, however, it has become less convoluted through the increased efforts of scientific bodies, governments, and organisations striving to shed a much needed light on the crisis. Though it is still an area of investigation, many culprits have been identified.  In short, bees are being poisoned by insecticides, becoming homeless due to habitat loss, and are growing increasingly vulnerable to a number of parasites that are destroying colonies at an alarming rate.

The Cause

While many factors pose threats to the wellbeing of bees, the most notable is the reduction of hospitable landscapes, mainly attributed to farming practices which vastly reduce the areas where bees can source their pollen, causing widespread fragmentation and damage to their living spaces. Sources that do remain are often then spoiled by insecticides that contaminate what feed the bees have left.

Up until recently, it was thought that pesticides had no ill-effect on the wellness of bees. However, Dennis vanEnglsdorp of the University of Maryland concluded a study that found bees to be three times more susceptible to parasites after ingesting contaminated pollen. In short, our environment has become a much less hospitable place for our pollinating and honey-making friends.

The Good News

Earlier this week, the EU announced a total ban on neonicotinoids from all outdoor farming fields in EU countries which will be carried out over the next 6 months. This action is a monumental step in protecting the future and well-being of bees. The use of several pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids – the world’s most widely used pesticide – has finally been agreed upon to be ‘extremely dangerous’ to bee populations according to EU risk assessments. The dangers of these pesticides has long been suspected, but hard to prove.

A Honey Bee Feeding on the Banks of the River Lee, Co. Cork.  Image by Killian Kelly  

Considerable public support for this long-awaited ban has been shown across many countries with over 5 million people internationally signing a petition run by the campaigning group Avaaz, who also helped crowdfund over €2.5 million for campaigns and research internationally.

This long-awaited news couldn’t have come sooner for Ireland, as bee species nationwide have seen a substantial decline since 1980. Furthermore, Ireland has seen the distribution of 42 species decline by more than 50%. These harrowing figures have led to some 30% of the Irish species being threatened with extinction, according to the Ireland’s National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC).

Not only is this ban on neonicotinoids fantastic news for bees, but as neonicotinoids are the world’s most popular set of insecticides, it will result in agriculture and chemical industries having to develop a whole new model around non-toxic agriculture.

The news of the ban comes shortly after the arrival of seven beehives and one nucleus hive to University College of Cork on April 4th, 2018. Introduction of colonies, with the help of beekeeper Thomas Quigley, was part of the UCC Green Campus’ efforts to further improve the University’s sustainability and conservation efforts while supporting the NBDC’s All-Ireland Pollinator Plan. The bees are located at the North Mall campus and over the coming months the Green Campus committee will be arranging opportunties for students and staff to visit the bees and learn about the importance of their conservation.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan (AIPP), launched on September 17th, 2015, saw a cross-sectoral attempt to prevent further bee declines with a small number of EU countries participating in similar efforts. In Ireland, the plan involved more than 80 public and private organisations coming together in an attempt to protect bees and other pollinators while raising awareness around the vitality they have to our food production and security. A single industrious worker bee can visit up to 2000 flowers per day, and now that neonicotinoids have been banned, the risks associated with such jam-packed pollination process is likely to decrease.

The future seems a whole lot brighter for bees across Ireland and the EU. Positive steps are being taken to ensure the future of bees, but, as always, more needs to be done. A rapidly changing world requires constant attention and efforts to safeguard our fragile ecosystems. The EU’s decision to ban harmful pesticides will hopefully aid in rejuvenating bee populations and encourage other countries such as the US and Canada to follow suit. A global movement could see an end to harmful pesticides, creating a more hospitable and less toxic environment for all.

One of UCC’s newest residents.  Image by Killian Kelly  

Here are a few different ways you can help to ensure we give bees the best possible chance:

  1. Encourage your school, university, or workplace to take part in the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.
  2. Planting bee-friendly plants and herbs in your garden can help give them forage for food. Find out more about bee-friendly plants here.
  3. Don’t use pesticides and chemicals when gardening.
  4. Buy local raw honey and organic food.
  5. Put a small basin of fresh water outside for bees to drink from.
  6. Don’t squish them!  Bees aren’t out to get you; they are out to get nectar and pollen. However, bees can detect the pheromones produced by your fear and anger, so try not to get flustered if you encounter one. They aren’t aggressive and will not sting you unless felt threatened. So, if a bee flies by you, stay calm and appreciate how cool they really are!

More photos of the arrival of our UCC bees can be found here.