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Two neonicotinoid insecticides, widely used in the United States, appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly during colder winters, according to a new study published today by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

The insecticides -  imidacloprid and clothianidin – are two of the three active neonicotinoid ingredients covered by the European Commission’s partial, two year restrictions, which came into force on 1 December 2013, following  concerns by EU scientists about their link to bee decline.

Commenting on the new study, Friends of the Earth’s Senior Nature Campaigner, Paul de Zylva said:

“Sudden deaths of entire honey bee colonies is a persistent concern in North America.

“Comprehensive research into the role pesticides play in bee decline is urgently required – including how they may compound other pressures, such as a lack of food and loss of habitat.

“The UK Government has accepted the need for a national action plan to reverse bee and pollinator decline. But its draft plan is dangerously complacent on pesticides, placing far too much trust in chemical firms and flawed procedures.

“If the UK National Pollinator Strategy is to be a success it must turn the current rising curve of pesticide use in the UK into a downward arrow.”


Notes to editors:

1. The study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) appears online May 9, 2014 in the Bulletin of Insectology:

2. The most recent comprehensive study of honey bee health across Europe showed that colony mortalities exist in the EU with significant regional differences, with the UK among those countries with the highest deaths.

The study (EPILOBEE, A pan-European epidemiological study on honeybee colony losses 2012-2013) covers almost 32,000 honey bee colonies across 17 EU Member States from autumn 2012 to summer 2013. It also looked at winter deaths of colonies.

The study was not about wild bumble and solitary bees which are also affected by pesticides and are as important, if not more so, for the pollination of crops, trees and wild plants.

The study found that winter colony mortality rates ranged among participating countries from 3.5% to 33.6% with a distinct North/South geographical pattern.

Countries with below average mortalities (below 10%) were Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spain. These represent the majority (over 59%) of hives (6.485.000) of the surveyed population and 47.3% of all EU honeybee population.

Countries with a mortality rate between 10% and 15% were Germany, France, Latvia, Poland and Portugal. These represent 34.6% of the surveyed population or 27.7% of all EU honeybee population (3.793.170 hives).

EU Members States with mortality rate of 20% or more were Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and the UK. These represent 6.24% of the surveyed population or ca. 5% of all EU population (684 500 hives).

Overall rates of seasonal colony mortality (during the beekeeping season) were lower than winter mortality and ranged from 0.3% to 13.6%.

For more information see:

3. Friends of the Earth has led the campaign to save British bees and other pollinators since launching its Bee Cause campaign in April 2012, which convinced the Government to introduce a national Bee Action Plan (National Pollinator Strategy - NPS) through building a coalition of more than 200 MPs, businesses such as the Co-operative and B&Q, the Women’s Institute and over 70,000 individuals.

4. Friends of the Earth is calling for the Government’s National Pollinator Strategy to be strengthened in the following areas:
• Proper support for farmers - Government proposals for confronting intensive farming are generally weak, vague and reliant on entirely voluntary actions;
• More action to tackle rising pesticide use and urge parks and gardeners to avoid spraying, in the light of increasing evidence about the potentially devastating impact on our bees;
• More onus on developers needed to safeguard pollinators by improving land use so bee habitats increase with development, not the reverse;
• Proper funding for the strategy instead of unclear or inadequate proposal. The Government cannot just rely on people’s goodwill to act.

5. In 2013, the charity also persuaded numerous large garden centres and DIY stores to remove products containing toxic neonicotinoid pesticides from their shelves. The chemicals were suspended from sale for two years by the EU at the end of last year due to concerns over harm to bees’ health.

6. MPs on the Commons Environmental Audit Committee are following up on their 2012 Pesticides and Pollinators inquiry and report with a new inquiry into whether the Government’s National Pollinator Strategy will be fit for purpose. See


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