What has the EU done for UK bees?

Sam Lowe

23 June 2016

Countries in the EU are banned from using 3 bee-harming pesticides. If we weren't in the EU, they would still be in use here.

Bees are great. They pollinate many of our food crops and wild flowers.

But since 1900, the UK has lost 20 species of bee. A further 35 bee species are considered to be under threat of extinction.

Across Europe nearly 1 in 10 wild bee species are under threat. It’s a shared problem.

There are several causes of bee decline: loss of habitat, use of pesticides, spread of pests and diseases, and climate change.

bee on flower
© Amelia Collins

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What is the EU doing to help protect bees from harmful pesticides?

In 2013 a majority of EU member states voted to restrict the use of 3 pesticides - known as neonicotinoids. The vote followed a report by EU scientists which revealed a high risk of harm to honey bees when neonicotinoids are used on crops attractive to them.

Futhermore, some of our most amazing bees can be found on nature sites protected by EU laws. 

On some parts of the South Downs (including EU protected Lewes Downs and Castle Hill) you can find some amazing bees such as the Brown-banded carder-bee (main image), Two-coloured mason-bee, Trimmer’s mining-bee, Blue carpenter-bee, and Red bartsia bee.

© Alan Palmer

What more needs to be done?

A lot. As well as phasing out damaging pesticides, the EU needs to reverse habitat loss and combat climate change. All require united action by governments across Europe.

The EU-wide ban on these 3 neonicotinoids is under review. It’s essential that countries in the EU keep the ban in place.

Would leaving the EU hinder or help?

If we weren't in the EU, these dangerous pesticides would never have been restricted in the UK. The UK vigorously opposed the introduction of the restrictions despite the scientific evidence.

Opponents of the ban were quick to predict widespread crop losses. However, the first harvest grown without neonicotinoids in autumn 2015 proved otherwise. Average UK crop yields of oilseed rape actually increased on the previous year.

© Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Theoretically, the UK government could maintain the ban on these bee-harming pesticides outside of the EU.

And theoretically European member states could collectively vote to repeal the restrictions.

We're campaigning to ensure that, in or out, they don’t come back. But without the EU, the restrictions wouldn’t have been introduced in the first place.

So far our membership of the EU has protected bees from harmful pesticides. Those in favour of Brexit are yet to show that bees would be safer.

Get involved in the campaign

In the financial year 2014-2015, 90% of our income was from individual donations. Less than 1% of our funding was from the EU.

Promoted by Anne Schiffer on behalf of Friends of the Earth Trust, registered charity no. 281681, company no. 1533942, of The Printworks, 1st Floor, 139 Clapham Road, SW9 0HP

This blog was first published on 12 June 2016

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