Birds And The Bees Action From European Parliament's Agriculture Committee

07 October 2008
Scotland's only full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee Mr Alyn Smith has welcomed steps by the Committee to force the European Commission to act on the crisis facing Europe's bees and bring forward a comprehensive plan to combat the massive declines seen in the insects, vital for pollination of much of Europe's agriculture.

The Committee will bring forward an Oral Question (below) to the European Commission, triggering a Parliamentary debate on the issue and forcing the European Commission to act. The Committee will also include "bee friendly" measures in the ongoing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, creating financial incentives for farmers to plant flowering plants in borders, breaking up monoculture environments proven to increase bee stress. This comes as a consequence of the very welcome abolition of set aside which has turned some 10% of the EU's farming land from effectively wild land with many wild flowers into productive agricultural land where bees often find little to feed on.

Speaking after the meeting Smith said:

"This is a serious issue and the decline in bees could herald a crisis unless we see concerted action. Beekeeping organisations estimate that every third mouthful of food consumed in the EU could be linked to pollination by bees, so the catastrophic collapse in bee populations is something we need to look into urgently.

"Scotland has seen a 30% decline in bee populations last year alone, other EU states have seen even worse declines. The Scottish government's Honey Bee Strategy is a very welcome step in rebuilding populations, but with Agriculture run within so many EU schemes it is only right that this national effort work with EU action as well to address this pressing issue and I will be making sure that Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead is aware of the opportunities the EU funding might bring to our domestic scheme.

"It strikes me that while the potential consequences are grave, the remedial action is pretty straightforward and we already have the mechanisms in place to tackle the issue. The very welcome abolition of set aside has, inadvertently, cut down on bee-friendly habitat, so it is only right that the agri-environmental schemes incorporate a focus on promoting bee and bird friendly plants in the biodiversity strips like hedgerows and scraps of fallow land. This is another income stream for farmers as well."

The Oral Question is below:

ORAL QUESTION O-0000/08

pursuant to Rule 108 of the Rules of Procedure

by Astrid Lulling, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development to the Commission

Subject: Situation in the bee-keeping sector

Beekeepers all over the world (and especially in Europe) are encountering very serious difficulties as regards keeping bees healthy. The production of apicultural products is seriously under threat.

Although this situation is deplorable in itself, attention should also be drawn to the prospect that a reduction in the bee population would result in inadequate pollination. Without domestic bees to pollinate plants we would no longer be able to produce the same quality and quantity of crops, fruits and vegetables which are such an important component in the diet of humans and animals. This is not only a threat to crops which depend on bees but also to biodiversity in general.

The significant reduction in available pollen and nectar - partly due to the use of modified and treated seed - is one of the main causes of the decline in bee numbers. The reduction in these food sources has a destabilising effect on bees and weakens their immune systems, which makes them vulnerable to parasites, viruses and other diseases. The current bee health crisis is marked by the continued presence of the Varroa parasite in hives, common collapse disorder and the increased prevalence of Nosema ceranae. Viral and fungal infections are also a threat to domestic bees. Some bee keepers are losing up to 50 or even 80 hives each winter.

Scientific research into bee diseases and into ways of tackling them continues to be underdeveloped.

What efforts is the Commission prepared to make in order to:

- develop research into the parasites and diseases which are devastating hives,

- set up ecological pollen,

- and nectar-rich recovery zones (like apicultural set-aside) and establish buffer zone, for example alongside roads,

- promote the necessary measures to combat the threat of inadequate pollination, i.e. a complete ban on pesticide treatment whilst crops are in flower and a reduction in the use of modified seed,

- monitor and control the quality of surface water, as bees react very swiftly to any environmental deterioration,

- provide financial aid to apiaries which are in difficulty?