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Honey bees are increasing, and there’s no evidence of a general decline in

My Times column on bee declines and neonicotinoid pesticides:

So those beastly farmers want the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides lifted to help them to poison more bees, eh? Britain’s honeybees are supposedly declining and so are our 25 species of bumblebee and 230 species of solitary bee. “Almost all are in decline,” laments one of the green blob’s tame journalists, echoing thousands of other articles.

But it’s bunk. There is no continuing decline in honeybee or wild bee numbers. There was in the 1980s when the varroa mite hit bee hives. But not today. Honeybee numbers are higher today than they were in the 1990s when neo-nics began to be widely used. This is true in Europe, North America and the world. There are about ten million more beehives in the world today than there were in 2000.

The EU’s “Epilobee” survey found that winter losses for 2013-14, the last winter before the neo-nic ban went into effect, were low. Sure, bees will die if fed neo-nics in the lab (they are insecticides after all). But last month’s European Academies Science Advisory Council report to justify the neo-nic ban turned out to be a shameless rehash of a discredited report whose authors had been caught red-handed discussing how to select the laboratory evidence to help the “campaign” to get neo-nics banned.

So greens have stopped talking about honeybees and started talking about the threat to wild bees instead. There is little data on wild bee populations, but what we do have suggest some declines, some expansions and some species showing no change in recent years.

A 2013 study found that the species richness of British bumblebees declined from the 1950s to the 1990s, but the decline then reversed. Other studies agree that wild bees are doing better since neo-nics came on the market. Solitary mining bees have been thriving. Conservation and wildlife-friendly farming have brought five rare bumblebees back from the brink of extinction.

So there is no recent pollinator crisis that can be laid at the door of neo-nics. The reverse in fact: farmers who cannot now use neo-nics are using pyrethroids instead. These cause more collateral damage to insects other than pests because they are sprayed on rather than locked inside the plant as seed dressing.

If you would prefer farming with fewer pesticides, there’s a simple way to achieve it. No, not organic but genetically modified crops. Bees thrive in them.

By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist  the-times