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National Pollinator Strategy

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 18 June 2015

13. What support her Department plans to provide for bees and pollinators through the national pollinator strategy. (900418)

Bees and other pollinators play an absolutely crucial role in our environment and are estimated to contribute around £400 million a year to our economy. Last year, DEFRA published the national pollinator strategy—a 10-year plan to bring about the best possible conditions for pollinators to flourish. The Government are committed to taking action to support pollinators across all types of land, enhancing the response to pest and disease risks and improving our evidence base.

I share the concerns of many constituents who have contacted me about the threat to the bee population from the proposed use of pesticides. We tamper with bees’ wellbeing at our peril; the evidence on this issue is incomplete. Will my hon. Friend give me an assurance that the restrictions on neonicotinoids will not be lifted until the evidence is complete?

I can tell my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom has implemented the restrictions in full, and that the European Food Safety Authority is about to conduct a review. It has made a call for evidence, to which the United Kingdom will contribute. We have commissioned work from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and that will be taken into account when the authority has completed its review.

I recommend to the Minister Hoxton Manor honey, which is made by the many urban beekeepers who are now based in my constituency. Production there has mushroomed in the last decade; indeed, my first piece of casework involved a beekeeper. Does the Minister agree that we need to encourage more urban beekeeping to ensure that we have a good ecosystem in our inner cities as well as elsewhere?

I entirely agree, and the national pollinator strategy refers to the importance of providing better habitats for bees in urban areas. I can inform the House that there is even a beehive on the roof of the DEFRA building.

I welcome the pollinator strategy, but yesterday I was contacted by a large number of people who were effectively lobbying. Will the Minister assure us that he will look at all the evidence, in order to ensure not just that the wonderful bees are protected, but that our farmers can farm economically and produce healthy food?

Many of my hon. Friend’s constituents have contacted me as well, and I know that there is a great deal of concern about the issue. There is a gap here: we do need more field trials. The United Kingdom has commissioned some work of that kind, as have other European Union member states including Sweden.

I am going to lose all my honey now. [Hon. Members: “How much?”] I shall ignore the heckling from my own side. It usually comes from the other side.

I was very concerned to learn that farmers who use polytunnels are buying hives in order to pollinate them and, as a condition of their contracts, must then destroy the hives with the live bees inside. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm or deny that, in the context of his review, or at least look into it if he is not sure of the answer.

I was not aware of that particular problem. We have tightened the regulations on imported bumblebees that are used in glasshouses in order to ensure that the native breed, audax, is the main one used, but if there is a specific issue involving honeybees, I shall be happy to engage in correspondence and then deal with it.