Are bees the new canaries?

Nicky Greenham of asks whether
what is happening to bees is just one more warning sign of what we are doing to our environment­ and therefore to ourselves?

Bees are disappearing. Entire hives are deserted overnight and no one knows why. Once a hive is deserted no other wildlife will go near it. The Americans call it Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and it’s happening in almost every country. Bees are responsible for pollinating about one-third of all food crops, contributing an estimated £165m to the British economy each year. Without bees our diets would be severely restricted without many of our fruit, vegetables, nuts, honey and all the convenience foods dependent on them.

All kinds of theories have been raised as to why bees are dying: parasites, a virus, malnutrition, mobile phone masts affecting navigation, pesticides or environmental pollution. It is likely that several factors are involved but no-one knows for sure.

Considering the huge importance of bees to the agricultural and food industry, the UK Government has been slow to respond. Initially denying the problem, they have now conceded a paltry £300,000 for
research. Denial followed by inadequate funding – a familiar theme.

The similarity between the plight of the bees and the increase in human environmental illnesses is alarming. Over the last 50 years our environment has changed beyond recognition as science and industry have leapt forward with new chemicals to make life easier, safer and more productive. Progress in the electronic and communications industries is unparalleled with every aspect of our lives now dependent on computers, mobile phones and WiFi.

Crucially, the one scientific area that has been unable to keep up is medical research. No- one knows the effect of these new toxins on our bodies; it’s all one giant experiment. The generation of children born in the last five years is the first to be exposed to chemical toxins and radiation for their entire lives, right from the womb. There are no lifetime studies or research data on the long-term effects on the body.

Ironically, while our bodies need higher levels of nutrients for this extra detoxification, our soil and foods are becoming increasingly depleted of the minerals and trace elements essential for a healthy immune system. Already an increasing percentage of the population has become affected by an increase in cancers and mysterious multi-system illnesses with no cure: ME, CFS, chemical sensitivity, total food allergy, electrical hypersensitivity, fibro- myalgia, Alzheimer's, ADHD.

Are the bees just one more warning sign? For years, multinational companies and governments, driven by profit, have played down any negative effects of our tremendous advances in science and technol- ogy. Steaming ahead for financial gain and conveniently ignoring or manipulating any cautionary scientific or medical research that has been funded, the myth is perpetuated: ‘if everyone does it, it must be safe’.

For centuries bees have been esteemed and revered in cultures around the world. Now they are in decline, and no one knows why. Environmental, chemical and electromagnetic pollution is obviously having a significant impact on the immune, endocrine and respiratory systems of an alarming number of vulnerable people around the world. Could the same factors be affecting the bees? Can we change our environment before it's too late? Do we want to?

Become a friend of the bees

Friends of the Bees is a new charity founded to conserve and protect bees, to educate people about bees and to research more natural beekeeping methods. It was inspired by the Natural Beekeeping Network – a growing movement of over 1,500 beekeepers in 160 countries who are developing more natural ways to care for their bees.

Phil Chandler, author of The Barefoot Beekeeper, says that the recent stories of honey bees being in decline have made many beekeepers look more critically at the way they treat their bees and question the use of medication and synthetic chemicals. Friends of the Bees is working with the Soil Association to match organic farmers with local beekeepers, so farmers will have the benefit of bees on their land, and the bees will have the benefit of the biodiversity of organic farming.

Friends of the Bees is a way that everyone can become involved with not just honey bees but other native species, including bumblebees and mason bees, also very important pollinators. Natural beekeeping events and courses will be available from spring 2010 in a number of locations, starting in Devon.


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First Published in 2009

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