Monday, 10 October 2016

The National Pollinator Strategy

In recent years there has been increasing concern about bee numbers, primarily in the context of their role as pollinators of crops.

The media, (see also here) has focussed on concerns regarding Neonicotinoids, but other factors such as bee habitat loss are also factors. It is also worth noting that in some areas there has been a switch away from wind pollinated crops such as wheat, to insect pollinated crops such as oilseed rape.

Worth reading this article to give context to the "third of hives lost" comments that are sometimes bandied about.

Neonicotinoids are currently banned in the EU (something the UK voted against) whilst a risk evaluation is undertaken. The ban was imposed based on research in a 2013 European Food Safety Authority study that looked at the neonicotinoid clothianidin and found, whilst there were significant data gaps, that:

"A high acute risk to honey bees was identified from exposure via dust drift for the seed treatment uses in maize, oilseed rape and cereals. A high acute risk was also identified from exposure via residues in nectar and/or pollen for the uses in oilseed rape."

It is noticeable that UK supermarkets are nervous about the use of Neonicotinoids in their supply chains, as described in this Bloomberg article

On the other hand, the National Farmers Union feels that the case against Neonicotinoids - in actual farming situations - has not been made and that the largest losses in bee numbers happened well before Neonicotinoids were introduced.

One manifestation of bee loss is in increased levels of "Colony Collapse Disorder" seen in many countries since 2006.

In 2014, the UK government, in collaboration with stakeholders ranging from the Bee Farmers Association to the National Farmers Union to Waitrose, developed a "National Pollinator Strategy".

This 10 year strategy has a vision to:

"..see pollinators thrive, so they can carry out their essential service to people of pollinating flowers and crops, while providing other benefits for our native plants,the wider environment, food production and all of us."

The report states that pollinators face many pressures, including habitat loss; pests and diseases; extreme weather; competition from invasive species; climate change; use of some pesticides.

And goes on to add that :

"The independent scientific review of the published evidence commissioned by Defra in 2013 identified the loss of flower-rich habitat as the likely primary cause of the recorded decline in diversity of wild bees and other pollinating insects. Loss of these habitats is associated with past intensification of agriculture, urbanisation and industrial development...Pests and pathogens were identified as the key threats to managed honey bees, although past loss of flower-rich habitat was also considered important. The reviewers identified other factors such as invasive species or climate change as additional pressures to pollinator populations, and pointed out that these pressures interact in a way that we do not fully understand."

In terms of actual policies and actions, some examples are shown below :

Working with farmers
5 simple actions: Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees that provide pollen and nectar; leave patches of land to grow wild; cut grass less often; avoid disturbing or destroying nests; think carefully about whether to use pesticides.

Working in cities
Ensuring good practice to help pollinators through initiatives with a wide range of organisations and professional networks including managers of public and amenity spaces, utility and transport companies, brownfield site managers, local authorities, developers and planners.

Encouraging the public to take action in their gardens, allotments, window boxes and balconies to make them pollinator-friendly or through other opportunities such as community gardening and volunteering on nature reserves.

Improving Bee colony resiliance
Working to improve beekeepers’ husbandry and management practices to strengthen the resilience of bee colonies.

Raising Awareness
Disseminating further advice to a wide range of land owners, managers and gardeners as part of Bees’ Needs.
Improving the sharing of knowledge and evidence between scientists, conservation practitioners and NGOs.

Better Data
Developing a sustainable long-term monitoring programme so we better understand their status, the causes of any declines and where our actions will have most effect.

Better Pest Control
Aiming to ensure low pesticide input and/or targeted use to minimise risks to the environment.

So, two years in, how is the strategy going?

NSB asked the following of Bee Farmers Association:

"I've been reading the National Pollinator Strategy (as research for a blog post) and noticed the Bee Farmers Association as being one of the organisation working with DEFRA on that project.

Just wanted to ask how you think the strategy is going, two years in, and whether the decline in UK bee numbers is being halted."

The NFU has a number of articles on bee numbers, with this and this perhaps most relevant. The articles describe how over 7,000 acres of seed mixes for bees have been voluntarily planted by farmers to enhance land lying fallow.

Also sent an email to Waitrose :

"I've been reading the National Pollinator Strategy (as research for a blog post) and noticed Waitrose as being one of the organisation working with DEFRA on that project.

Just wanted to ask how you think the strategy is going, two years in, and whether the decline in UK bee numbers is being halted. Also, what is your view on Neonicotinoids - will you eliminate them from your supply chain or do you share the NFU's view that the link between them and bee population decline is unproven?"

European Honey Bee doing its thing.

Related Content
A post about Mike's Bees!
Talk : Reproduction in Bedbugs
Talk : From soil to supper
Talk : Dung Beetles and Drugs
Image Sources

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Ben Nevis

Having been blessed with the chance, and the health, to walk up Mount Snowdon and Scafell Pike several years ago, NSB has long wanted to make it to the top of Ben Nevis, the third of the "Three Peaks". The chance came around recently on a trip to Scotland, and NSB was doubly blessed by very good (i.e. clear) weather. Below are some pictures but, before that, lets have a look at how Ben Nevis was formed.

Ben Nevis is the tallest mountain in the UK, at 1344m, and is located next to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.

The mountains in this area were formed some 400 million years ago during the Caledonian Orogeny. At this time the Iapetus ocean was closed by the collision of the continents of Avalonia, Laurentia and Baltica. The images below from the BGS show how the upper and lower parts of the UK mainland were joined together during this process. As the ocean closed, there was a great deal of volcanic activity at the subduction zones at the ocean edges. This volcanic activity (which is similar to the volcanic activity on the western seaboard of South America currently) is what gave rise to the volcanic rocks in the Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland.



Also here is a nice video explaining how Ben Nevis was formed (suggest skipping the first minute or so though).

The so-called "suture" line can actually be seen in the Isle of Man, as shown below.

Standing on two different tectonic plates

The rocks at top and left formed in Laurentia (which contained Scotland) but the rocks at lower right formed in Avalonia (which contained England).

Also well worth reading this vividly written BBC article on the volcanic history of the UK

Since its formation, Ben Nevis has been eroded down very significantly, as shown below - walking to the peak is now a journey through the interior of a volcano!

Schematic showing how Ben Nevis formed and was then eroded to it's current shape
Copyright Royal Geographical Society

Much of that erosion was caused by glaciers during past ice ages, when the Ben Nevis range might have looked something like this image from Greenland.

During the Ice Age,  the Ben Nevis area might have looked something like this

With that introduction out of the way, here are a few pictures of the walk up to the Ben Nevis peak.

Starting out,  100-200m up, looking along Glen Nevis

By  Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe - the "Half Way Lake" about 580m up

Looking back at the lake from about 900m up.

The top part of Ben Nevis is a "blockfield" of angular broken rocks. This is believed to have formed during the last iceage when the majority of the mountain was covered in a glacier leaving the exposed top vulnerable to erosion by freeze-thaw action.

At around 1200m and no, that isn't the top.

View  north just before reaching the top,
sheer drops if you drift off course in fog

Incredible view from the top 1340m

Image Sources
All NSB own except Isle of Man, Greenland , Iapetus, Schematic

Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) (schematic)