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Bee Population

Volume 563: debated on Thursday 16 May 2013

Threats to the health of bees are many, and their impacts change from year to year. Our National Bee Unit’s bee health inspectors report a mixed picture. While the foulbrood diseases are at historically low levels and exotic pests remain absent, the varroa mite is still a major concern. NBU inspectors are assessing what impact almost 12 months of poor weather is having on our bees and will report later in the year.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Given the importance of bees to our environment—and, of course, our orchards—what more can his Department do to make it easier for people to take up beekeeping and encourage a new generation of beekeepers in this country?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress the supreme importance of encouraging the growth of pollinators all round, and our healthy bees plan provides £1.3 million to fund the NBU, with its inspection, training and diagnostic services, which encourage people to take up beekeeping.

In Northern Ireland, the predicament of the bees is just as critical as it is in England. Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with the Northern Ireland Assembly, and specifically the Minister responsible for this area, Michelle O’Neill, to ensure that the United Kingdom strategy is put in place across the whole of the United Kingdom, including England and the regions?

This issue is devolved, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but I will be having a meeting with the devolved Ministers very shortly, and bees and pollination will obviously be one of the issues we will discuss.

Speaking as a beekeeper myself, is the Secretary of State aware of the extreme disappointment of the British Beekeepers Association, of which I am a member, at the recent EU ban on neonicotinoid insecticides and the very grave concern that as a result farmers will go back to older, and more damaging, insecticides and that the health of Britain’s bees could therefore inadvertently be more at risk now than before the ban was introduced?

My hon. Friend speaks with real authority on this, so what he says is worrying. We argued exactly that case: that there should not be a precipitate ban until proper analysis has been done of the alternatives. There may be legally licensed alternatives, such as pyrethroids or organophosphates, but they are not nice, and we were not convinced that the case against neonicotinoids had been made following the analysis of our field trials. We were supported by eight member states—important ones such as Hungary, with 2 million hectares producing 20,000 tonnes of honey—but, sadly, we were outvoted and the Commission has decided to bring in a two-year ban.