Help stop devastating bee decline, pleads pollination expert 0
Pollination expert Sue Chan spoke about the devastating effects of declining bee populations, and demonstrated how to make a bee habitat out of reeds, to a full house at the Hastings Highlands Centre on April 26. MICHELLE ANNETTE TREMBLAY SPECIAL TO THIS WEEK
If nothing is done to protect bee populations, which are in serious decline, the effects could be economically and environmentally devastating explained pollination-biology expert Sue Chan to a full house at the Hastings Highlands Centre on April 26.
"When we say the decline is starting, this is not true," said Chan. "The decline is already well on its way."
Chan holds multiple degrees and is an ecological bee-keeper, co-founder of the Lakefield Farmers' Market, project manager of Farms at Work, and manager of the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee Project. The Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee was once one of the most common bumble bees in Ontario, but is now endangered.
Chan explained that in Ontario 48 per cent of all insecticides registered for commercial use are toxic to bees and in the United States honey bee populations have already decreased by 50 per cent. But it's not just honey we should be worried about.
"Bees are a keystone species," said Roger Kelly, of Kellys' Berry Farm. He introduced Chan to the audience of more than 120 people and spoke at length about the importance of pollinators. He pointed out that bees have a huge impact on the life-cycles of plants, as well as other insects and birds, and on the food-supply of all creatures, including humans.
"This is a world-wide problem," said Kelly.
Chan confirmed this, explaining there are already places in the world, including parts of the United Kingdom and China, where bees have been wiped out by excessive use of insecticides. In these areas, high-value crops are now hand pollinated by people. This is not an effective back-up plan said Chan, because it is terribly inefficient, and people - as hard as they may try - are nowhere near as talented at pollination as bees are.
But it's not too late to stop and perhaps even reverse the damage.
"There's lots you can do," said Chan, "it doesn't cost a lot and it doesn't have to be done all at once."
For starters, pollinator-protectors can urge pesticide producers and farmers to stop the production and use of neonicotinoid pesticides.
"Neonicotinoids are basically single-handedly destroying the bee population," said Chan.
"I'm pleading with you, if you're using neonicotinoids, think about it," says Chan to farmers. She says she understands why farmers have used this family of pesticides in the past, and does not place blame on them.
"It makes me crazy when farmers get blamed; they didn't invent it, and they used it on advice."
Chan explained that in theory neonicotinoids make sense because instead of being sprayed on crops they are applied to corn and soybean seeds. One would think this would be better for the environment and pollinators. However the neonicotinoids end up in every cell of the plant as it grows, and is present in the pollen male plants eventually produce. It is extremely toxic to bees.
"The companies that produce this stuff need to hear a big enough reaction from the general public," said Chan. There is currently an online petition that Chan urges people to sign at www.avaaz.org/en/bayer_save_the_bees asking manufacturers of neonicotinoids to cease production.
There are other things people can do to support bee populations as well, such as growing bee-friendly flowers and creating spaces hospitable to bees.
Chan spoke extensively about the importance of wild varieties of bees, which have major differences in biology and behaviour from domestic honey bees, and are crucial pollinators. Unlike honey bees, wild bees are not likely to sting unless directly provoked, and live alone or in very small colonies. Many of them have specialized diets.
Chan got choked up when she described how an entire population of squash bees was wiped out because a squash farm closed. In the spring all the queen bees woke up from hibernation to find there were no squash plants. Since they feed exclusively on the pollen and nectar of squash flowers, they all died, and the subsequent generations they would have produced never had a chance.
Chan says little changes like letting vegetables in your garden go to flower after harvest, growing wildflowers, and letting clover and dandelions grow in your lawn are all simple ways to help wild bees thrive. Not using pesticides is an obvious way to help bees, and people can also create inviting bee habitats. Chan described several ways to do this, including leaving some bare dirt patches in low traffic areas, and placing reeds, straws, or even bits of wood with drilled out tunnels in strategic places for bees to nest inside. She said there are instructions for making bee nests all over the internet, and that people can get very creative.
After concluding her presentation, Chan took questions from the audience. Many of the audience members had a direct link to bees, either as bee-keepers themselves, or as avid farmers and gardeners, and asked many questions, sparking intense conversation.
"I am so excited when I see a room full of people who care about pollinators," said Chan. "It is a privilege to be here."