More than just bees

Nature never did betray the heart that loved her

William Wordsworth

While I was researching my last piece on the EU’s neonicotinoid ban I came across some quite surprising sentiments. The most unexpected was someone complaining about all “the fuss” over bees.

Of course, the benefits of the ban will not just be for bees. All pollinators are crucial to healthy natural ecosystems and the success of our own food production systems. Bees just happen to be the most productive pollinators, and the most recognisable to us, so they have unwittingly become a symbol for pollinators and beneficial insects in general.

Neonicotinoids obviously also have toxic effects on other insects (that’s why they were created). An important example is mayflies and caddisflies, which are ‘keystone’ indicator species in healthy freshwater ecosystems. They can also cause secondary outbreaks of pest species like mites, because the initial insecticide application killed all the other insects that could have kept the mites in check.

Insects are the most ubiquitous and abundant group of creatures on earth, and they are also the most understudied, undervalued and unidentified. What we do know of them tells us how crucial most insect species are to ecosystem function and our own survival. The focus on bees and pollinators in the insecticide story is simply a matter of public interest, but the widespread effects of restricting these chemicals will benefit a whole lot of other important insects too.

Which is why the level of opposition to the ban, as well as the scientific errors and misrepresentation that are being disseminated by politicians, journalists, critics and supposed ‘voices of reason’, are astounding. Do we really have such little respect for Nature?

In the UK, the government have disregarded their own MPs, citizens and even supermarkets that support the ban. Instead, they support Big Biotech companies, which have been secretly lobbying the UK government to oppose the ban.

There was also the UK government’s appalling misinterpretation of the Precautionary Principle, and the UK government-funded ‘scientific field study’ (that wasn’t very scientific at all) that they used as ‘evidence’ that neonicotinoids did not affect bees.

In the US, the latest view appears to be that an insecticide ban is pointless and unwarranted, because the pollinator health issue is so complex and so many other factors are producing a combined effect on bees. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the “meaningful benefits” these pesticides have for producers and consumers (i.e. money) outweigh the impacts they are having on the environment.

We know that Nature is complex – that’s what makes it so wonderful and awe-inspiring. If it was simple, we wouldn’t be here.

So why is the ecological complexity of an issue a reason to ignore our impact on the environment? Are we so hard-pressed for time and knowledge that Nature should just be dumped in the ‘too-hard’ basket?

Of course banning the use of one toxic synthetic chemical isn’t going to fix everything overnight. Is that really a reason not to do it?

We have already introduced so many unnatural or human-controlled substances, elements, flows and systems into Nature, the burden this will have on the Earth and our own lives will continue for hundreds of years, probably more. We need to change the way we do things. Now.

Yes, it’s complicated. Yes, it’s daunting. And yes, sometimes it’s hard to know what the ‘right’ decision is. So we can ignore it, continue creating more and more waste, disrupting more and more ecological networks, polluting and destroying more and more ecosystems, and leave all the problems for those that come after us to deal with.

Or we can make a start now – limiting the impacts we CAN do something about, one small step at a time.


© Manu Saunders 2013

11 thoughts on “More than just bees

  1. Emily Heath May 4, 2013 / 6:26 PM

    Agree with you 🙂 My only worry is what farmers are going to start using instead – I believe some rural British beekeepers were against the ban as they worry farmers will go back to spraying other types of pesticides, which might be more toxic than the neonicotinoids.


    • manuelinor May 5, 2013 / 9:21 AM

      Yes, I fear that will happen too! This ban is a great opportunity to raise awareness about the environmental effects of the most toxic chemicals (ALL of them, not just neonics) and reduce their use everywhere, but I doubt this will be taken advantage of. Most governments still aren’t ready to embrace low-impact agriculture, but fingers crossed it will happen soon! 🙂


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