Lockdown, Neonics and Queens

Stay Home Sign in Manchester
Source: Manchester Evening News

OK, so we’ve been in lockdown for a while now. I only venture outside to go shopping occasionally and to walk the dog. Oh, and beekeeping, of course. It’s never been busier in the parks and the places where I like to wander; somehow, a lockdown has made everyone take up cycling and running.

We have been through the stage where giving other people a wide berth feels rude. Now it feels rude if anyone gets too close. I don’t know how many people are poor at maths or spatial awareness. Some folk have no idea what 2m/6ft looks like. Especially joggers and cyclists, who believe 2 feet is an acceptable distance to leave, as they pant out their potentially deadly droplets.

Cooped Up Walrus

The plain fact is that in cities and towns there are a lot of people cooped up in their homes. Even when a couple of them pop out for groceries or a walk, that makes for busy parks and shops.

All of this staying indoors and not going to the gym has enlarged my walrus physique. I really must stop eating something every time I pass by the kitchen. The diet has begun. It’s not a strict diet, just a “don’t overeat, and moderate the carbs” type of thing. I’m going to be climbing aboard the elliptical torture device every other day too. It’s either that or buy bigger clothes.

Farmers Grow less Oilseed Rape

In other news, I saw a tweet today from @HeadysFarm, which I found rather sad.

Some farmers who still grow oilseed rape (OSR) have stepped up the spraying of other pesticides, and some have tried alternative options like companion cropping. Either way, I looked up UK government data on the land area used for growing OSR, and it has been steadily falling.

The Rise and Fall of Oilseed Rape
The Rise and Fall of Oilseed Rape

The north-west is not a big OSR area, so my bees rarely see the stuff, and I’m OK with that as (a) I’m not crazy about the taste of OSR honey and (b) I don’t want frames to clog up with crystalised honey, which tends to happen when you are not used to dealing with it properly. However, in the midlands and to the east, oilseed rape has been one of the primary sources of honey. With less and less being grown, I wonder what the impact on beekeepers has been.

Is the ban working?

It could be that I did something wrong, but I struggled to find out how pollinators have responded to the ban on neonicotinoids. Many of the articles and papers still use data that stops around 2013. I do know that honeybees thrived on OSR grown from neonic coated seeds; it was never a problem for them. Other pollinators such as the many different species of bees, butterflies, beetles, flies, birds and bats may well have taken a hammering from the build-up of these chemicals in our environment.

In 2013 the EU imposed a temporary ban on the use of clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid. In 2018 this ban has become permanent.
Logically we should see a significant bounce-back of pollinator numbers after several years without the use of these pesticides. I can’t find much evidence one way or the other.

We need a plan

An article titled “Neonicotinoids and bees: Despite EU moratorium, insecticides still detectable” in Science Daily shows that imidacloprid, in particular, was still showing up in 43% of nectar samples taken in 2014 to 2018. It’s gradually disappearing, but it hasn’t gone yet. I like the common sense approach of a piece in The Biologist called “We need a plan, not just a ban.” If you rely on intensive agriculture and suddenly ban a big part of the toolkit, you need to consider what alternatives are available to farmers. Going organic means lower yields and increasing the use of alternative chemicals may make things worse than before. They suggest “the best way forward may lie somewhere between a total ban and the widespread use of neonicotinoids which has occurred in the past.”

The results of a poll which I put on my last post on here shows that the majority of people who voted want to read more about raising queens. I’m thinking about doing that as my next project.

Queen honeybee by @squgcreative
Queen honeybee by @squgcreative

Importing Queens

There are a lot of queens imported to the UK each year. The EU import report on BeeBase shows that last year 20,000 queens were brought in. Much of this is because the weather in the UK is unreliable and even in good years local queens are not available until June. If you need queens in April and you haven’t over-wintered any then importing from Greece or Italy is going to happen. Many beekeepers in the UK should consider raising queens and taking them through winter in nucs. They can be sold to local beekeepers if you don’t need them yourself.

I am not against imports of queens per se. It just seems wrong to rely on them. Full disclosure: last year, I bought a breeder queen from Germany, which is why a bee inspector visited me. I will be producing daughter queens from her over the next two years, hopefully. I wanted to bring in some hygienic genetics, and this queen seems to fit the bill. Jolanta from Denrosa sent me some of her lovely “babies” last year, and I also have some from Exmoor Bees. Also, I raise queens from my best; it’s not about the type of bee or where it comes from so much as how well they do for me. With 20 to 30 colonies, I don’t feel I have the scale to rely entirely on my stock, so I bring in top quality queens from elsewhere every other year.

Interviews with Beekeepers

Finally, if anyone has my book and is enjoying reading it, I’d love to hear from you. It’s difficult to know if my efforts made any difference to any other beekeepers’ lives; I hope they did.

What do you think?

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