24/Apr/2014 - Last News Update: 12:55

Loss of bees could be 'a blow to UK economy'

Category: Business

Published: 22nd Jun 2010 09:22:26

If bees and other pollinators were to disappear completely, the cost to the UK economy could be up to £440m per year, scientists have warned.

This amounts to about 13% of the country's income from farming.

In a bid to save the declining insects, up to £10m has been invested in nine projects that will explore threats to pollinators.

The Insect Pollinators Initiative will look at different aspects of the insects' decline.

The initiative brings together specialists from a number of UK universities, as well as from the Food & Environment Research Agency and the Natural Environment Research Council's (Nerc) Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

It is funded by several public and charity organisations, led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Honeybees, hoverflies, wasps, bumblebees, moths and butterflies play a vital role in feeding people through the pollination of crops.

Bumblebees have declined worldwide, largely due to the loss of flowers and other habitats they need to survive in the countryside

Speaking at a news briefing at the Science Media Centre, Professor Andrew Watkinson, director of the Living with Environmental Change programme, said that the new initiative "allowed us to bring in new skills in gene sequencing and epidemiological modelling with the expertise that already exists in the pollinator research community".

Some projects will look at factors affecting the health and survival of pollinators in general. Others will focus on specific species and diseases.

'Catastrophic' decline

Professor Watkinson said there was no single factor that could explain the pollinators' decline.

"There's a whole range of agriculture and land use, disease, environmental change [and] pesticides," he said.

"To tackle a complex problem like the decline of pollinating insects, where there are a number of potential causes, requires wide-ranging research."

For some species, such as bumblebees, the decline was "catastrophic", he added.

"It's really difficult to quantify [the extent of the decline of pollinators] and that's one of the problems we really need to address.

"What we need is some robust science and I think that this programme is going to provide it."

Another speaker, Claire Carvell from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said that since the 1970s, there had been a 75% decline of butterfly species in the UK.

Also, out of 25 species of bumblebees, three had gone extinct, she added.

These "extra special" bees with large hairy bodies are very effective at transferring pollen between flowers, she commented.

"They are also active at lower temperatures than other bees, so you'll see them out working earlier and later in the day.

"But bumblebees have declined worldwide, largely due to the loss of flowers and other habitats they need to survive in the countryside."

Dr Carvell said that her team will use a method of collecting DNA from live wild bumblebees to estimate how far queen bees fly to start new nests and how far workers fly to forage.

"These findings will allow us to manage landscapes in ways that are effective in conserving bumblebee populations," she concluded.

A brain disorder?

Neurobiologist Chris Connolly, of the University of Dundee, is leading research into the effect pesticides have on bees.

A single pesticide or miticide is not likely to be responsible… but a cocktail of different pesticides or miticides might [have a combined effect] to amplify the brain problem

In particular, his team will assess any possible damage to the insects' abilities to gather food, navigate and even perform their special "waggle dance", which they use to let other bees know where nectar can be found.

He said that the pollinators' decline could be partially explained by a brain disorder - triggered by chemicals in pesticides.

"A single pesticide or miticide is not likely to be responsible… but a cocktail of different pesticides or miticides might [have a combined effect] to amplify the brain problem," explained Dr Connolly.

His study will concentrate on identifying these dangerous combinations on order to advise farmers on avoiding them in the future.

It will include fitting tiny radio frequency ID tags on pollinators wich will act like "barcodes at the supermarket", recording when insects enter and leave the nest.

Other projects include investigating ecology and conservation of pollinators in cities, researching the impact of the mite Varroa destructor and the effects of agriculture on bees.

The vital thing, Professor Watkinson stated, was for the scientists to communicate the results of their studies to the people in the field - beekeepers and farmers.

"It is imperative that the science that's being done is fed through as quickly as possible to the conservationists, to the agricultural community, so that we can ensure food security and also the maintenance of our biodiversity," he said.

Source:
BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2010. Loss of bees could be 'a blow to UK economy' [Online] (Updated 22nd Jun 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/69243/Loss-of-bees-could-be-a-blow-to-UK-economy [Accessed 24th Apr 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Clacton woman injured as BMW car crashes into home

    A woman in her 70s has been seriously injured after a BMW car crashed into her home in Essex.
  • UK car production rises in March

    UK carmakers increased production in March, helped by demand from Europe and after a number of firms finished upgrading their plants for new models.
  • Asda car fire: Men told to carry out unpaid work

    Two men who admitted setting fire to a stolen car in an Aberdeenshire supermarket car park while people were still sitting inside have been told to carry out unpaid work.
  • Dog bites highest in deprived areas

    Hospital admissions for dog bites are three times as high in the most deprived areas of England as in the least, official figures show.
  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Warhol works recovered from old Amiga disks

    A dozen previously unknown works created by Andy Warhol have been recovered from 30-year-old Amiga disks.