The Bee Cause launch south bank 2012

Bee campaign successes

Bees are in serious trouble, with 35 UK bee species under threat of extinction. But together, we have shown that we can be the generation to saves the bees.
  Published:  14 Sep 2017    |      6 minute read

In just 5 years, our campaigners and supporters have made a huge difference. Businesses, community groups, scientists, farmers and growers, local councils and bee lovers from across the UK have taken action to reverse the catastrophic decline of bees.

Bees on honey cells
Credit: istock

Your support for The Bee Cause campaign helped bring about the restriction of the use of bee-harming neonic pesticides on outdoor crops in the UK, and the EU.

Together, we persuaded the Welsh and UK governments to draw up national Bee Action Plans, the first in the world.

Thousands of you took part in The Great British Bee Count to collect data on bee species around the UK, providing valuable data to scientists and researchers that could never have been collected without your help.

And we didn’t stop there.

Our bee campaign successes so far

You made our government take action on bees

We needed urgent national action to stop the decline of the bees. So we launched our bee campaign by calling on the government to agree a national Bee Action Plan to address the causes of bee decline across all species.

We created a pop-up wildflower meadow on London’s concrete South Bank outside the National Theatre and gave away 20,000 free packs of bee-friendly wildflower seeds to start the campaign.

bee cause launch examining bees
The Bee Cause campaign launch, London's South Bank 2012

We also launched 'The decline of England's bees', a report by the UK’s leading bees scientists at the University of Reading that showed that if UK farmers had to grow crops without the free help provided by bees pollinating our food crops, the extra costs would be at least £1.8 billion a year – which would show up in the price of our weekly shop.

You wrote to your MPs and then Prime Minister, David Cameron and gained massive political support for a national Bee Action Plan. And it worked.

In 2013, we helped the Welsh government launch the world's first National Pollinators Plan and the UK government agreed the National Pollinator Strategy for England the following year. Scotland launched its 10 year Pollinator Strategy in 2017 showing that saving bees and pollinators is now a UK-wide priority. We also advised on a pollinator plan for All-Ireland.

You made the UK more bee friendly

We supported over 500 communities to create new improved areas to provide better sources of food and shelter for bees and other pollinating insects, called Bee Worlds.

Bee World Battersea 2014
Bee World Battersea 2014

Not only did you make new habitats for bees in your communities, but many of you used our information on how to grow the right plants to attract bees in your gardens, window boxes or other small spaces.

Welsh communities, schools, universities and businesses can now achieve Bee Friendly status with a Wales-wide accreditation scheme launched by the Welsh government and Friends of the Earth Cymru in August 2017, a world first!

You counted the bees!

From our campaigning, we knew people were surprised and fascinated when they found out that there is more than one type of bee – there are over 260+ - and that most of these do not sting or produce honey, but are important for pollination of plants in our parks, gardens and countryside.

The Great British Bee Count app
The Great British Bee Count app

We also knew that the government lacked a basic system for monitoring bees and other pollinating insects. Without knowing how different bees are doing, it is hard to devise sensible policies to improve conditions for them.

That is why in 2013 we created the Great British Bee Count and a free app to help people get to know different bees and to also start collecting basic data on what types of bee are found in different parts of the UK.

As a result of championing better monitoring of species and use of that information to guide policies and actions, the Government introduced a national insect monitoring scheme in 2017.

The Great British Bee Count is the largest citizen science project of its kind and in 2017, over 15,000 people took part recording over 300,000 different sightings using the free app.

We fought against the use of bee-harming pesticides

The debate about pesticides grew in January 2013 when British and European scientists and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that three particular pesticides posed a ‘high acute risk’ to honey bees and an uncertain risk to wild bees.

photo of oilseed rape field being sprayed
Credit: istock

This led to the European Commission deciding to restrict some uses of the three neonicotinoid pesticides on flowering crops, eg oil seed rape. By spring 2013, we had helped secure a partial EU-wide restriction on these three bee-harming neonics.

As more studies came out demonstrating the adverse impact of neonics on bees and the wider environment the UK government started to shift. At first it opposed the restrictions claiming there was a lack of scientific evidence. It even allowed the National Farmers Union to get round the restrictions in 2015. But we presented evidence on the science and the flaws in the NFU’s further attempts to get round the ban and the government rejected those applications.

In November 2017 the government acted on the advice of its Expert Committee on Pesticides that neonics pose even greater unacceptable risks to bees than thought in 2013. The Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced UK support for the 3 neonics to be banned permanently, and on all crops.

In February 2018 a major assessment of the latest science by the European Food Safety Authority [EFSA] concluded that most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees.

Finally in April 2018 the EU, including the UK, voted in favour of a ban on bee-harming neonicotinoids on all outdoor crops. This huge shift could also see better regulation of all pesticide use, and more support for farmers and landowners to manage land in far more bee- and wildlife-friendly ways.

We persuaded the UK’s top ten garden centre chains to remove bee-harming neonics from their plants

Research revealed that 70% of flowers sampled in a number of garden centres contained neonicotinoid pesticides. When a bee feeds on pollen or nectar containing these chemicals, it can damage its nervous system. This will affect the bee's feeding, navigation, foraging and reproduction. What’s more, these plants were labelled as ‘bee-friendly'. Thanks to the pressure generated by your emails, calls and tweets, these stores – including garden centre and retail giant Homebase – have told suppliers not to use these bee-harming pesticides. Great news for gardeners who can now grow bee-friendly plants with confidence that they’re helping pollinators thrive.

Homebase stunt

We held Bee Summits to bring people together to take action

Together with the Women’s Institute and The Cooperative, we staged the first ever Bee Summit back in 2013 which supported the launch of the national Bee Action Plans by bringing people from across business, civil society and other groups to focus on the issue.

The Bee Summit 2013
The Bee Summit, 28 June 2013

We've supported communities in Oxford, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester and Chester organise regional Bee Summits, and held two more national summits to continue the progress of the National Pollinator Strategy in 2015 and 2017.

Local councils made their own bee-saving plans

Along with the national plans, we persuaded local councils to adopt local Bee Action Plans to change how they manage land, use pesticides and actively plan conservation efforts aimed at helping bees and pollinators. Some councils have also adopted pesticide-free policies for land they manage - find out how Cornwall County Council is helping bees as well as Devon County Council.

Cornwall Pirates rugby team and bees unite
Cornwall Pirates rugby team and bees unite
Credit: iStock

We supported bee campaigners overseas

The bee problem is a global issue so we also helped support international action. We took our knowledge to the global stage with a report for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and parallel People’s Summit in Malta in November 2015. We gave advice to contacts in the USA and Canada where the pesticides issue was taking a similar path as we’ve seen in the UK and EU.

While bee decline is taking grip in North America, our advice helped our US contacts persuade the Obama Presidency to set up a national action plan for pollinators like those we had secured in the UK.It’s been an amazing 5 years. The Bee Cause shows how people can really get passionate about our natural world. We’ve seen how a new generation has taken action for bees and pollinating insects, in their homes and communities. The success so far shows we can make a difference. Paul de Zylva, Campaigner

What’s left to do?

We’ve come a long way since 2012 when we started The Bee Cause campaign, but there’s a lot more to do to protect our bees.

Bees being in trouble is a sign that our natural environment is also in trouble. And if bees are in trouble, a fundamental link in how our natural world functions will be weakened and perhaps removed.

Bumble bee on lavender
Lavender is great for bees and other insects - if it's free of neonicotinoids.
Credit: Thinkstock

Bees pollinate most of the crops and food that make life colourful, healthy and interesting. From the cotton used in shirts, socks and skirts we wear every day and the sheets we sleep on at night to those foods that make our diets interesting, healthy and nutritious, apples, pears, plums, nuts, tomatoes, onions, beans, aubergines, even coffee and chocolate rely on pollination by a member of the bee family. And there are many more reasons why bees are important.

To keep our bees and planet safe, we need to:

  1. Boost action plans It’s still early days for the national Bee Action Plans so we need to make sure these plans ramp up action across society, businesses, local and central government. We’ll continue to support people to make their homes, gardens and communities bee-friendly.
  2. Keep pesticides at bay We need to keep bee-harming pesticides out of farmers’ fields and off the shelves of garden centres and hardware stores.
  3. Make sure we have strong policies in post-Brexit Britain When the UK leaves the European Union, the UK will devise its own policies on farming and pesticides and that risks letting the strong lobbying efforts of the pesticides companies and intensive farming industry shape what happens. It will be all the more important to make sure we have strong policies in the UK.