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It would cost the UK £1.8 billion every year to hand-pollinate crops without bees – 20% more than previously thought – according to new research launched today by Friends of the Earth as it unveils a new campaign to save the bee.
The new figure – equivalent to the annual wages of 60,000 teachers – comes from research conducted by leading bee experts at the University of Reading on behalf of the environment charity as it launches The Bee Cause to call for action on bees before it’s too late.
Friends of the Earth is also creating a temporary 150 square metre wildflower meadow in the shadow of the National Theatre, London, to highlight the need for more bee-friendly habitats – with the flowers used to create the spectacle given away to passers-by to encourage gardening that will help bees to thrive.
In recent years Britain has lost over half the honey bees kept in managed hives and wild honey bees are nearly extinct. Solitary bees are declining in more than half the areas they've been studied and some species of bumblebee have been lost altogether.
Costly hand-pollination is already being used in parts of the world, notably pear trees in Hanyuan County, China, where native bee populations have been wiped out by a combination of loss of their natural habitat and intensive farming.
Friends of the Earth is urging David Cameron to save these important pollinators and save the nation billions by committing to a British bee action plan. The plan outlines action on the planning of our towns, the way we farm and use pesticides and funding for nature experts in the Government to ensure vital bee populations are restored.
The charity is also providing information and resources on how people can help bees in their gardens and communities, including giving away 20,000 packets of wildflower seeds.
To support the call to David Cameron and find out what else you can do to help bees, visit www.foe.co.uk/bees.
Paul de Zylva, Nature Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said:
“Unless we halt the decline in British bees our farmers will have to rely on hand-pollination, sending food prices rocketing.
“Bees are responsible for most of our favourite fruit and vegetables so as well as the huge blow to our economy, our diet would also suffer.
“David Cameron must make the changes needed now to give our bees a fighting chance and save Britain billions.”
Notes to editors:
1. The campaign website www.foe.co.uk/bees will be live from the early hours of Wednesday 11 April.
2. On Wednesday 11 April, Friends of the Earth is transforming The Stone Circle outside the National Theatre on the South Bank in Central London into a temporary British wildflower meadow. Media are invited to see the spectacle at 8am. Later in the day the thousands of wildflowers and plants will be given away to passers-by to plant in their own gardens, to create thousands of new bee-friendly habitats across London. For more information on this stunt, please contact Amy Golledge on 07739 007 474. A photocall notice will be sent separately.
3. £1.8billion to hand-pollinate – reference Breeze et al, 2012 – Chapter 4, work prepared by the University of Reading, due to be published soon.
4. The £1.8billion calculation based on the average salary for a teacher being £30,000.
5. The number of managed honeybee colonies in the UK fell by 53% between 1985 and 2005 (Potts et al, 2010a) and wild honeybees are nearly extinct (Carreck, 2008). Solitary bee diversity has declined in 52% of UK landscapes (Beismeijer et al, 2006).
6. Pear trees in China – reference Ya (2001), ‘Hand pollination of pears and its implications for biodiversity conservation and environmental protection - A case study from Hanyuan County’, Sichuan Province, China.
7. In 2007 the National Audit Office assessed the value of honeybees to the UK economy at £200m a year with the retail value of the crops they pollinate put closer to £1bn.
8. For more season-by-season bee-friendly plants, visit http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/Sustainable-gardening/pdfs/RHS_Pollinators_PlantList.
9. For more than 40 years we’ve seen that the wellbeing of people and planet go hand in hand – and it’s been the inspiration for our campaigns. Together with thousands of people like you we’ve secured safer food and water, defended wildlife and natural habitats, championed the move to clean energy and acted to keep our climate stable. Be a Friend of the Earth – see things differently.