Mike Clayton: Will Brexit still protect bumblebees?

The EU could be set to ban pesticides said to affect bees. Picture: Bumblebee Conservation Trust

The EU could be set to ban pesticides said to affect bees. Picture: Bumblebee Conservation Trust

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Ask yourself, what would summer be without the ­intermittent buzz-buzzing of bumblebees, bumbling between flower beds?

I read an article recently, in which studies at Stirling University suggested bees exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides don’t learn how to buzz. A consequence is a ­failure to release pollen in some ­flowers. This is not good – less pollination, less plants, less food.

Now, it appears that the European Commission has recognised this problem and drafted a proposal to ban neonicotinoids. This was based on a European Food Safety Authority risk assessment, with a vote on the regulations expected after May.

“Great!”, you say, “problem solved, healthy bees, more honey.”

But think about it. Recent voter myopia following ­Conservative government stupidity means that Britain is leaving the EC. Without EC legislation, what protection will UK bees receive?

Why are we acquiescing to discarding effective, ­hard-won, environmental principles and legislative safeguards so easily?

Evidence supporting the benefits of EC regulatory intervention, and the contrasting US approach, includes Germany ­banning specific neonicotinoids after a massive 2008 bee die-off and France banning similar pesticides, after research confirmed toxic residue in sunflower nectar and beekeepers noting foraging and behaviour changes.

In Europe, a pre-emptive approach places environmental safety ahead of commercial interest. ‘Improved product labelling’ for the method of application is the US solution, to minimise bee exposure to these same neurotoxins – choosing to permit use until proven hazardous.

Also in America, climate-change sceptics and blatant opportunists are working to undo legislation protecting wildlife and the environment.

The US Senate recently passed Resolution H.J. Res. 69, nullifying regulations ­prohibiting certain hunting practices on federal land in Alaska. One previously ­prohibited tactic to be permitted is catching bears with leg traps. It only needs Trump’s scrawl to implement this unnecessarily cruel act.

Last month, he signed The Energy Independence Executive Order reversing the ­previous administration’s rules aimed at curbing climate change, reducing their already slim chances of meeting Paris Agreement targets on carbon/CO2 emissions.

With reports of North Atlantic herring being unsustainable, fish conservation was also in the news. Without the ‘protection’ of a Common Fishing Policy, Spanish and Icelandic fishermen will be angling to take advantage.

On Sky News, Surfers Against Sewage warned that removing environmental safeguards post-Brexit could harm Britain’s beaches. EU directives have improved coastal water quality with 93 per cent of English beaches rated good or excellent. In the 1990s, it was 28 per cent.

SAS chief Hugo Tagholm asked: “Who will hold us to account?”, outwith “the watchful eye of the European Commission”. Who indeed?

Mike Clayton lives in Perth and writes the enviro-blog paulrbear.wordpress.com

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