In the last few years, you will probably have heard a large amount of talk centring on a most familiar insect: the humble bee. Much of this discourse focuses on the matter of bees disappearing, which is worrisome in itself, but there are other subjects relating to bees that also deserve to be the subject of conversation. Whether they are giving us annoying stings or providing us with delicious honey bees play a role in our daily lives, and in some cases this role can be larger and wider-ranging than we may generally imagine. For example, there is currently debate surrounding the question of how bees influence the growth of biofuel in the United Kingdom.
With the ever-growing demand for biofuels in the world of today, it has become necessary for Britain to grow increasing amounts of crops (soybeans, sunflowers and oilseed rape being amongst the favored varieties) that can be converted into this environmentally friendly form of fuel. However, these crops require pollination, and the unfortunate truth is that there are not enough honeybees around to fully pollinate all of these additional crops. Honeybees are not the only pollinating insect - there are other types to be found in the wild, including hoverflies and bumblebees - but they do carry a significant amount of the legwork.
This is particularly concerning when we consider that EU renewable fuel directive has called for a quota of renewable fuel to be produced each year, something that will lead to increased demand for biofuels across the continent. As crops for biofuel are on the increase, and honeybees are on the decline - something that is generally chalked up to disease and artificial pesticides, which seem likely to have played a significant role in damaging the local bee population - there is room to doubt whether we will ever see a happy balance between biofuel crops and pollinating insects.
The decline of the bee
It is not just the United Kingdom which is facing this problem; it can be found to different degrees across a number of other European countries. However, the UK is one of the worst hit, with only Moldova being hit by a bigger shortfall of honeybees.
According to researchers who have studied the matter, there is one path to confronting a disaster arising from honeybee loss: establishing measures that will protect wild pollinating insects by safeguarding them from dangers such as loss of surrounding habitat. It will also be necessary for agricultural and environmental policies to be reworked so that they are in harmony with each other, and not running in competition as they are currently.
The solution to all of this will require a drastic rethink - a complete overhaul of how biofuel crops (and perhaps crops in general) are treated in the United Kingdom and abroad. There needs to be a new infrastructure to underpin our crop development, one that takes into account the role played by wild pollinating insects and ensures that they will have a place to interact with cultivated plant life. To put the issue in broad terms, we will need an approach to keeping crops that is more in tune with how the natural world is structured, so that the two areas are able to help each other.
If this is achieved, then the potential catastrophe arising from the dwindling honeybee population may well be averted. But until then, the environmental policy of Europe will be running at odds with the needs and practices of the agricultural industry, one that is already being reshaped as the new century requires a new emphasis on sustainable and responsible growth and production.
Author C McDonald – I am actively involved in a number of ‘green’ projects and like to whenever I can respect my local environment, for sourcing my electricity supply to what detergent I use.