From the great yellow bumblebee in Scotland to the potter flower bee clinging on in a few sites on England‘s south coast, many of Britain’s rarest wild bees are in deep trouble, according to a report highlighted in The Guardian.
The study blames intensive farming and urban sprawl which have decimated the flowery meadows that bees feed in as the key factors.
“The way we farm and use land across the UK has pushed many rare bees into serious decline,” said bee expert Prof Simon Potts, at the University of Reading, who led the study commissioned by Friends of the Earth. “I’m calling on the government to act swiftly to save these iconic creatures which are essential to a thriving environment and our food supply”.
The report focused on12 key species across Britain. It found the great yellow bumblebee has disappeared from 80% of its historic UK range and now relies on the unique machair habitat in western Scotland, a flower-rich grassland. On the south coast of England, the range of the solitary potter flower bee, which digs burrows to lay eggs in, has also shrunk dramatically. Britain’s rarest solitary bee, the large mason bee, is on the brink of extinction in Wales, the report found.
“The most pervasive causes of bee species decline are to be found in the way our countryside has changed in the past 60 years,” Potts writes in the report. “Intensification of grazing regimes, an increase in pesticide use, loss of biodiverse field margins and hedgerows, the trend towards sterile monoculture, insensitive development and the sprawl of towns and cities are the main factors in this.” While pesticide use is an issue, the two-year suspension of three neonicotinoid insecticides across the European Union agreed on 29 April will not reverse bee decline unless the other causes are also dealt with, the report warns.
“We need a bee action plan now,” said Sandra Bell, at Friends of the Earth. “These bee species are in real trouble. But people across the UK can help change all that with simple practical actions and by urging their MPs to play their part.” While a majority of EU nations backed the neonicotinoid ban, UK ministers opposed it.
Bees and other pollinators play a crucial role in food production, with three-quarters of global food crops relying on pollination. Britain has over 250 bee species, but numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years and 20 species have become extinct in the UK since 1900. Honeybees kept in hives have also suffered severe losses in recent decades, with pests and diseases such as the varroa mite adding to the problems of habitat loss and pesticide use.
Potts made a range of recommendations to reverse bee decline, including the promotion of sympathetic grazing regimes to ensure bees can feed until early autumn, encouraging farmers to sow wildflower margins in fields and setting quantitative targets for the reduction of all pesticide use. The latter measure was not done in the government’s National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, published in February, despite EU law demanding member states “establish timetables and targets for the reduction of pesticide use”.
- WILDLIFE: ‘Victory for bees’ as European Union bans neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for destroying population (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Dr. Reese Halter: Stop Neonicotinoid Pesticides: Protestors to March in London (huffingtonpost.com)
- BEES : Historic vote to ban neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for huge decline (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
The US government is being sued by a coalition of beekeepers, conservation and food campaigners over pesticides linked to serious harm in bees. The Guardian reports
The lawsuit accuses the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of failing to protect the insects – which pollinate three-quarters of all food crops – from nerve agents that it says should be suspended from use. Neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used insecticides, are also facing the prospect of suspension in the European Union, after the health commissioner pledged to press on with the proposed ban despite opposition from the UK and Germany.
“We have demonstrated time and time again over the last several years that the EPA needs to protect bees,” said Peter Jenkins, an attorney at the Centre for Food Safety who is representing the coalition. “The agency has refused, so we’ve been compelled to sue.”
“America’s beekeepers cannot survive for long with the toxic environment EPA has supported,” said Steve Ellis, a Minnesota and California beekeeper and one of the plaintiffs who filed the suit at the federal district court. “Bee-toxic pesticides in dozens of widely used products, on top of many other stresses our industry faces, are killing our bees.”
The EPA declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement: “We are working aggressively to protect bees and other pollinators from pesticide risks through regulatory, voluntary and research programmes. Specifically, the EPA is accelerating the schedule for registration review of the neonicotinoid pesticides because of uncertainties about them and their potential effects on bees.” However, even the accelerated review will not be completed before 2018.
The pesticides named in the lawsuits are clothianidin, manufactured by Bayer, and thiamethoxam, made by Syngenta. Neither company chose to comment on the lawsuit, but industry group Crop Life America (CLA) is representing some of the companies.
“The CLA fully supports and trusts the rigour of EPA’s review process for crop protection products, including neonicotinoids,” said Ray McAllister, senior director of regulatory affairs at CLA. “This class of product represents an important component of modern agriculture that helps farmers protect their crops. Neonicotinoids are thoroughly tested and monitored for potential risks to the environment and various beneficial species, including honeybees.”
A series of high-profile scientific studies in the last year have increasingly linked neonicotinoids to harmful effects in bees, including huge losses in the number of queens produced, and big increases in “disappeared” bees that fail to return from foraging trips. Disease and habitat loss are also thought to be factors in the recent declines in populations of bees and other pollinators.
A proposal to suspend the use of three neonicotinoids across the EU ended in a hung vote on 15 March. But Tonio Borg, the European commissioner for health and consumer policy, said this week he would take the proposal to appeal. If member states maintained their positions, the insecticides would be suspended. “The health of our bees is of paramount importance,” said Borg. “We have a duty to take proportionate yet decisive action to protect them wherever appropriate.”
The lawsuit against the EPA argues that, via “conditional registrations”, the regulator rushed the neonicotinoids into the market without sufficient examination and since that time has failed to take account of new information. “Pesticide manufacturers use conditional registrations to rush bee-toxic products to market, with little public oversight,” said Paul Towers, at Pesticide Action Network, part of the coalition.
The action by the coalition, which also includes the Sierra Club and the Centre for Environmental Health, follows an emergency petition in March 2012 which demanded the EPA suspend the use of clothianidin but was not acted upon. Also issued this week was a report from the American Bird Conservancy, which said the “EPA risk assessments have greatly underestimated [the risk to birds], using scientifically unsound, outdated methodology.”
- Groups sue EPA over honeybee deaths, blame some insecticides (science.nbcnews.com)
- Beekeepers Sue EPA Over Pesticide Approvals – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Beekeepers sue EPA over failing to stop harmful pesticides (blacklistednews.com)
- Beekeepers sue Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over failing to stop harmful pesticides (planet.infowars.com)
- Groups sue EPA over honey bee deaths, blame some insecticides (reuters.com)
- Bees to have their day in court over insecticide use (newscientist.com)
- You: Groups sue to protect bees and pollinators from pesticides (latimes.com)
Cites summit votes for strictly controlled permits to export fins of oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three species of hammerhead. The Guardian reports
The millions of sharks killed every year to feed the vast appetite for shark-fin soup in Asia now have greater protection, after the 178 nations at the world’s biggest wildlife summit voted to crack down on the trade.
Those fishing for oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three species of hammerhead shark will now require strictly controlled permits to export the fins. The move is a landmark moment for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) because many previous attempts to protect marine species – including these sharks – have failed, largely due to opposition from Japan and China. Those nations argued other bodies have responsibility for fisheries, but their opponents, including the EU, US and Brazil, said Cites is far more effective and conservation campaigners were delighted. Manta rays also won new protection.
“Dealing with fisheries is always hard due the huge economic and political interests involved,” said a delegate from one of the world’s top fin-exporting nations. She added the cultural attachment to serving shark fin soup at weddings in China – now affordable for millions more in the country’s swelling middle class – was very strong and very hard to break: “It would be like telling the French not to have champagne at their wedding.”
Sharks are highly sought after but are slow to mature and have few offspring, making them extremely vulnerable to overfishing. The culling of 1 million oceanic whitetip sharks every year has resulted, for example, in its Pacific population crashing by 93% between 1995 and 2010. Today the species was given protection in a close vote that just achieved the two-thirds majority required.
The porbeagle, once sought for its valuable meat especially for European markets, also saw a population crash, dropping 85% from 1981 to 2005 in the north and west Atlantic. In 2010, the EU had to halt fishing due to the tiny numbers left. The porbeagle shark lost out on protection in 2010 at Cites by one vote, but this summit, being held in Bangkok, saw a much wider coalition of 37 nations backing the shark proposals.
The fins of the scalloped hammerhead are among the most valuable of all and it is estimated that 2 million a year are killed. They are one of the rare sharks to school together, making it easy to catch large numbers. The Cites summit also voted to protect the great and smooth hammerhead sharks, because their fins are very similar and could have been targeted if only the scalloped hammerhead was protected.
Previous Cites meetings had seen similar protection proposals for sharks rejected, but new support from Latin American and west African countries, and the promise of cash from the European Union to help change fishing practices, won the day. The decisions could be reopened for debate at the final plenary session of the summit and potentially overturned. If, not all the measures will be implemented after an 18-month period in which enforcement measures can be set up.
Scientists estimate that about 100m sharks are killed by humans every year, representing 6-8% of all sharks and far above a sustainable level.
The shark fin trade is a global one, with Hong Kong at its hub, where 50% of all fins end up. Ten million kilogrammes of shark fins are shipped to its port every year, from 83 countries. Spain and Indonesia the leading sources, but other top 10 nations include countries such as Argentina, Nigeria, New Zealand and Iran.
One-third of the 450 known species of shark are endangered by overfishing, but the species protected on Monday are the most valuable and sought after. Vessels are often officially fishing for tuna or swordfish but can in fact catch far more sharks, particularly the oceanic whitetip shark. By finning the fish at sea and throwing the bodies back, single trips can results in many thousands of dead sharks.
The impact of the huge fishing fleets of Spain and France has been particularly severe on the porbeagle shark, whose meat is sold for a high price, and it has fallen by more than 95% in the Mediterranean an 90% in the north-east Atlantic.
Prof Nick Dulvy of Simon Fraser University in Canada and a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature expert panel on sharks, said wiping out populations of the fish often plays havoc with the ecosystem: “When we remove the top predator, their prey can burgeon and affect the food chain all the way down.” This can affect seafood prized by people, as happened off North Carolina when commercial fishing destroyed the big shark population, leaving rays to thrive which in turn destroyed bay scallops.
“We are thrilled that the tide is now turning for shark conservation, with governments listening to the science and acting in the interests of sustainability,” said Elizabeth Wilson, manager of Pew’s global shark campaign. “With these new protections, they will have the chance to recover and once again fulfil their role as top predators.”
Manta rays, known by divers as friendly and inquisitive gentle giants with a seven-metre wingspan, also got new protection against exports at the Cites summit, backed by 80% of the voting nations. They are easy to catch but extremely slow to reproduce, delivering just one pup every two to five years. Their populations are being devastated off Sri Lanka and Indonesia to feed a newly created Chinese medicine market in which their gill plates, used to filter food from the ocean, are sold as a purifying tonic. Around 5,000 a year are killed, generating $5m for traders, but where protected they bring in $140m from tourism.
Finally, the nations at the Cites summit chose unanimously to ban all international trade in a species of freshwater sawfish that is now restricted to northern Australia. They are virtually extinct over much of their former west Pacific range, and have not been seen for decades in Indonesia and Thailand. They were sought for their highly valuable fins ($4,000), their saws ($1,500) and by aquariums. Monday’s vote means all sawfish species have been banned from international trade.
Carlos Drews, head of WWF’s Cites delegation, called the shark votes “a landmark moment”. Ralf Sonntag, shark specialist for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “This is a bold move by Cites. These sharks are worth far more alive than dead to local communities.”
- Biodiversity: More protection for manta rays? (summitcountyvoice.com)
- Conservation Body Votes to Regulate Shark Trade (abcnews.go.com)
- Conservation body votes to regulate shark trade (miamiherald.com)
- Conservation body votes to regulate shark trade (seattletimes.com)
- ‘Pressure’ on shark protection vote (bbc.co.uk)
- Cites votes to regulate shark trade (independent.ie)
- Sharks at risk of extinction from overfishing, say scientists (guardian.co.uk)
- Protections aim to moderate trade in shark fins (abc.net.au)