The Spark investigates what’s happening to our bees.
In issue 54 we reported on Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum’s book: A World Without Bees, in which the authors claim that pesticide use and industrial bee-keeping practices are driving down bee numbers and contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder (where worker bees abruptly disappear from their hive). CCD is hugely worrying because of the honey bee’s vital role within our eco-system. Human survival, let alone thriving, depends on the pollination of crops. One third of our food crops are pollinated by bees, and with other pollinating insects also declining, we cannot afford to take our bees for granted.
A groundswell of public concern over the issue (which culminated in an online petition to the government this summer) met with this response from DEFRA: “The very limited number of cases of high losses for which there is no ready explanation is being investigated in depth by the National Bee Unit and bee inspectors…” It went on to say that “[research] suggests that these losses are primarily due to Varroa [a parasitic mite] and inappropriate control.”
Another possible explanation touted recently is that microwave radiation from mobile phones, WiFi, and other microwave transmitters could be interfering with the bees’ natural navigation systems. This possibility has been discredited in the national press, but one radiation expert I’ve spoken to recently believes that the relevant information was not presented in the right context. In short, a breakdown of communication has resulted in the microwave theory being dismissed before it has been properly explored.
On August 9 2008 I attended a series of talks in Glastonbury about the bee crisis. One of the speakers was Barrie Trower, scientific advisor to the Radiation Research Trust (UK) and Electrosensitivity (UK). Barrie gives his time for free to raise awareness of microwaves and their effects on human health and animals. He cited an impressive list of research papers, including one by the US government and the microwave industry itself, which showed clearly that microwaves do affect the immune systems of humans and animals, including bees. Bees are affected particularly strongly because of the nature of their communication and navigation systems.
Bees have magnetic materials in their heads, thoraxes and abdomens and use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate. The magnetic material on their bodies can be re-magnetised by a stronger magnetic field, and since magnetic field levels from transmitters are roughly 640 times greater than that of the bees’ most sensitive level, it’s not hard to see the potential risk. When bees return to their hive with nectar and pollen, they perform a ‘waggle dance’ to give their hive information about where the nectar is, how far away it is, and the direction in which other bees need to fly in. This dance creates a series of vibrations that are felt throughout the hive. The frequency that the bees resonate to is 200-300 Hz (vibrations/second). This is identical to some pulsing frequencies used by mobile phone transmitters; therefore hives near transmitters may be vibrating day and night and TETRA transmitters have a range of 30 miles.
Barrie believes that what is happening to bees is also happening to other living things. He has a plethora of research on butterflies, trees, plants, migratory birds, ants, cattle and whales and many other forms of wildlife. The common denominators are: all have suffered from the installation of nearby microwave transmitters, and they all either use the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation, or are exposed to ground currents (or both). Barrie says he can no longer find a trouble-free country where mobile phones, WiFi, TETRA, bluetooth etc are being used. (For research details, you can google Barrie Trower or visit mastsanity.org).
So, what is the way forward? Mobile phone frequencies could be changed but that would mean going back within the radio band and out of the microwave band altogether. This would protect the bees, yet the mobile phone industry is making so much money, perhaps billions a day, that there is likely to be stiff opposition to this.
The way that we keep bees also needs to change. Currently bees are moved around the country to pollinate different crops, which are in turn treated with chemicals and pesticides. This completely disrupts their natural way of living and reduces their resistance to disease and pollution, including microwave pollution. Some conservationsists have suggested creating managed “safe zones” for bees, but as beekeeper Patrick Moulsdale points out, these would have to cover large areas, as bees can travel as far as 10km from their hives. Patrick was also at the Glastonbury conference and can be contacted for information on sustainable beekeeping (see his details below).
There is encouraging news, too. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) and RSPB Scotland recently joined forces to create the world’s first bumblebee sanctuary, funded by Scottish National Heritage. This meadow of perennial wildflowers on Scotland’s Vane Farm nature reserve, (beside Loch Leven in Perth and Kinross), is already attracting rare and threatened bumblebees from far and wide,including the blaeberry bumblebee.
• Contact your MEP. Barrie has pointed out that there is now a new law. It is called the European Habitat Directive which states “It is illegal to harm protected species or disrupt their habitat.” I contacted my MEP, Glyn Ford (Labour) and he confirmed that bees are protected. In fact, it is illegal to kill a bee in the EU. Contact your MEP and ask how the European parliament is going to respond to the bee crisis, given these facts. You can also email your MP.
Email contacts for all MPs and MEPs can be found at writetothem.com
• Write to Defra (Lord Rooker, Minister for Sustainable Farming & Food, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, S0W1P 3JR).
• Call the National Bee Unit. South West helpline tel 01364 653325
• Contact me! I would like to set up a Bristol-based campaign group to raise awareness of issues surrounding our threatened bees and to explore how they could be protected.
Email me, Sami, at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to get involved.
• Join the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Adult membership starts at just £1 per month.
01786 467818; see bumblebeeconservationtrust.co.uk
• Plant your garden with bee-friendly plants. Dr Ivor Davis, master beekeeper and past president of the British Beekeepers’ Association, writes in The Guardian: “[Bees like] single-flowering plants and vegetables. Go for all the allium family, all the mints, all beans except French beans and flowering herbs. Bees like daisy-shaped flowers – asters and sunflowers – also tall plants like hollyhocks, larkspur and foxgloves. Willows and lime trees are exceptionally good.
• Buy local honey. Local honey will be prepared by local beekeepers (who use less industrialised methods which are healthier for bees).
British Beekeeper’s Association: britishbee.org.uk
bella-bees.co.uk for a wealth of information
Patrick Moulsdale (holistic beekeeping) email@example.com, see guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/13/wildlife.endangeredspecies
• Save our Bees: Increase Bee Health Research, published by the British Beekeepers Association, Tel 02476 696679
Written by Sami Chugg
First published issue 55 (Winter 08)
Disclaimer – details were correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.