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Sugar Beet vs Bees by Sam Rogers

Bees are vital for producing the food we eat every day and it is estimated that 87.5% of all flowering plants rely on insects and other vertebrates to carry out pollination for reproduction (Ollerton et al., 2011). Bees are regarded as the most important insect pollinator and their agricultural economic benefits are estimated at £400 million annually in the UK alone (Powney et al., 2021)! However, since the late 1990s global bee populations have begun to decline on an exponential scale; the number of wild bee species has declined by a quarter since then. This not only threatens our economy but our entire system of food production. Based on regional, local and global collections of data gathered from museums, academic research and complemented by citizen-science efforts, Zattara and Aizen published in 2021 that approximately 25% fewer species were recorded between 2006-2015 compared to before the 1990s. The authors described the situation as “...undergoing a global decline in bee diversity that needs the immediate attention of governments and international institutions” (Zattara and Aizen, 2021).

So, why is this happening?

There are several theories as to why bees are dying off at such a rate. It is believed an assortment of parasites, pathogens, pesticides, harmful effects of electromagnetic waves, climate fluctuations, and lack of plant biodiversity resulting in poor nutrition, high rate of mortality and colony disruptions, are all contributing factors to this global catastrophe. But, in more recent years another culprit can be seen in the form of large-scale, industrial use of agricultural pesticides - a leading cause of pollinator decline according to a steadily growing body of research over the past 20 years (Stapel et al., 2000; El Hassini et al., 2005; Sánchez-Bayo et al., 2017). Neonicotinoid pesticides, in particular have been proven to be the most harmful to honeybees (Fairbrother et al., 2014), inflicting harmful physical and behavioural impacts including a reduction in food consumption, reproduction, worker survival, colony survival, and foraging activity, and in most cases paralysing the bees completely. Many of these effects are initially sub-lethal but result in disruption to the colony and subsequent colony collapse. In 2018, the UK government backed EU proposals for tighter restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides, including expanding a partial ban on the use of three neonicotinoids – Clothianidin, Imidacloprid and Thiamethoxam. However, under the new restrictions, governments retained the right to consider and authorise emergency use of the above pesticides.

In January 2021, the UK joined 10 EU countries including Belgium, Denmark and Spain, in granting emergency use of Thiamethoxam to combat a virus threatening sugar beet seeds, the beet yellows virus, and which has halved farmer yields in worst cases. Although the pesticide was not deployed due to cold weather early last year slowing the spread of the virus, the bad news is that the government has now ignored their scientific advisers and have granted permission to sugar beet farmers to use this pesticide in 2022. The initial decision to allow the use of neonicotinoids during 2021 was made to directly protect the sugar beet industry but goes against the government’s own advice suggesting that “the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoids – particularly to our bees and pollinators – are greater than previously understood, supporting the case for further restrictions.” The government declared that “the strictly time limited emergency authorisation of this neonicotinoid treatment will provide emergency protection against this virus”. However, the long-term effects of this pesticide on pollinators and ecosystem at large have not been mentioned. Furthermore seasonal losses are easily estimated with figures given ranging from £0.1 million to £52 million. The long-term economic impacts that the loss of pollinators will result in may be far greater and are much harder to calculate.

Unfortunately, the arguments for authorising the use of neonicotinoids in emergency situations centres around a lack of viable alternative for pest control, however, there are in fact several alternative solutions available. In 2019, research by Jactel and colleagues asked this very question. They considered eight categories of potential alternative methods:

  1. Other synthetic or chemical insecticides.

  2. Biological control with macroorganisms, including predators and parasitoids.

  3. Biological control with microorganisms, including entomopathogenic fungi, virus and bacteria.

  4. Biological control through farming practices, including intercropping, flower strips, grass strips, hedgerows, crop rotation, irrigation and more.

  5. Use of semiochemicals.

  6. Physical methods, including uprooting, pruning, application of thermal, electrical, light or acoustic treatments, physical barriers.

  7. Genetically improved plant varieties produced either by classical plant breeding or by genetic modification techniques.

  8. Plant defense elicitors.

The results of the study found that for the 152 authorised uses of neonicotinoids in France as of 01/01/2018, 71% of cases could be substituted with either another chemical insecticide or a non-chemical solution, 7% could only be substituted for a non-chemical solution and 4% could not be adequately substituted. The remaining 18% were only substitutable with another class of chemical insecticide. This means that in 78% of cases there was a viable non-chemical alternative to using neonicotinoids.

Indeed one may be thinking how this sits with our Environmental Bill to halt biodiversity loss by 2030, but the situation is complex and although should by no means champion profit over protecting our vital ecological systems – how does this impact the farmers and their livelihoods? The billion-dollar pesticide industry seems to be winning, but funding educational programmes on sustainable farming can greatly alter current methods which, in the long term can foster better farming practices. Environmental campaigners such as the charity Bees for Development believe that emergency use of neonicotinoids is a short-term solution which does not address the issue and that there should be “a greater focus on having ‘strong, resilient bio-abundance' - which is letting things grow properly and not cutting them down” said Milan Wiercx van Rhijn in an interview with the BBC. This could mean incorporating alternative methods that hold potential benefits for improving biodiversity and connectivity in farmland habitats. This highlights the need for policy-making to be led not just by short-term economic impacts, but by environmental issues and their long-term impacts. Furthermore, many farmers recognise the need for further

research into alternative solutions. They agree that the emergency use of neonicotinoids is a temporary relief which in fact may slow down research for more resilient crop varieties because the immediate sugar crisis has been avoided, at least for the season. The UK government has an ongoing National Pollinator Strategy covering 2014 to 2024 aiming to improve the state of bees and other pollinating insects. You can read more about the implementation and monitoring of this policy here.

Bee informed…

Actively providing more knowledge about nature and natural processes in our society is one of the major goals of Biodiversity and Environmental Education Society (BEES). It seems now more than ever is the time to become an ambassador for nature and to be able to back-up the work of scientists, as a trained naturalist and informed citizen. With modules ranging

from entomology to law & legislation, we provide an opportunity for people to engage with and experience nature and all it has to offer, as well as teaching the necessary knowledge and skills required to be a successful nature guide. After all,

"No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they haven’t experienced." - Sir David Attenborough

What can you do as an individual to protect bee populations?

  • Try and avoid pesticide and herbicide use.

  • Don’t start your garden clean-up too soon and wait until temperatures are consistently above 10°C. Bees like to winter in hollowed out stems of last year's plants.

  • Bee-friendly in your garden and plant wildflowers and indigenous plants to attract bees all year round.

  • Provide shelter and water. Let the grass grow.

  • Increase your awareness and appreciation of insects. Attend educational events with your family. Find events near you, within the Wildlife Trusts for instance. Or register on our BEE a Nature Guide course programme.

  • Get involved in your local council. You can advocate for more policies and practices to help insects and protect nature. Make your council plant verges of wildflowers or transform bus-stops into bee-stops.

  • Support science and volunteer in citizen research. For instance, help the bumblebees and count them on a monthly walk from March to October (BeeWalk).

For further details:

A Solitary Bee (Photo by Damien Hubaut, CNB)
A Solitary Bee (Photo by Damien Hubaut, CNB)

Farah, Victoriya and Elena


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  • BEES

Photo by Sam Rogers

2021 was meant to be a steppingstone year for our planet and climate change with the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference culminating at the end of October. Living in harmony with nature, a target to achieve. Keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius ‘alive’, will be a challenge for us all, but there were some positive notes to take away from COP26 (European Commission, 2021).

COP26 was the first COP to listen to the science drawing directly on the report prepared by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which highlights how the impacts of climate change will be considerably lower at 1.5°C than 2°C (IPCC, 2021). The IPCC highlights how human activity has placed intense pressure on the planet’s natural eco-systems, where many experts and climate scientists claim that continued over-exploitation of natural resources, climate change and disruptions of nutrient and phosphorus cycles will transgress planetary boundaries (Rockström, 2018) leaving our eco-systems no longer resilient. Global leaders tackling climate change are left with little choice, and the science must frame all future decisions and policies on handling climate action.

Other positives from COP26 included countries providing updates on strengthening their nationally determined contribution (NDCs), which are targets setting out how far countries plan to reduce emissions across their entire economy and/or in specific sectors. Most parties (151 out of 194) had submitted their new or updated first NDCs which are committed to reducing or limiting their emissions by 2025 and/or 2030 (UNFCCC, 2022).

The bad news is that, not enough is being done to meet targets necessary to avoid tipping points and irreversible damage to ecosystems and there is still so much more to do in the fight to reduce global emissions. COP26 also revealed the lack of funding from the global North and other developed nations in helping the global South deal with the already disastrous effects of flooding, heatwaves and other extreme climate. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was initiated in 2010 with aims of assisting developing countries’ transitions to low- carbon climate-resilient economies, and while there have been projects for mitigation and adaptation, there is still a gap in funding and the lack of support for countries in the global South to achieve just transitions (Omukuti, 2021).

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that in an emergency we can join our forces and act fast and together to fight a crisis.

What about the climate crisis?

Worldwide, we have witnessed increasing destructive hurricanes in the United States for instance, devastating rainfall and flooding around Europe, irregular and more intense wildfires in Australia and California. Studies in the UK have shown that “extremely warm winter days in central England, as in 2018/19, are still very rare, but human influence is estimated to have made them about 300 times more likely” (Christidis and Stott, 2021). 2020 was the UK’s third warmest year since 1659. Scientists at the MET office also warned that “we now expect a year as warm as 2020 every other year” (McCarthy et al., 2021).

Indeed, the over-exploitation of nature’s resources such as excessive logging and unsustainable agricultural methods leading to deforestation and loss of green biomass and high greenhouse gas emissions are a contributing factor in disrupting the biosphere and water cycles causing such damage, but perhaps the world’s reliance on coal is the main culprit. China and India alone account for 64% of global coal consumption and emit about 35% of the world’s GHG (over half of the world’s GHG is emitted by China, USA, EU, and India) (Palmer, 2021). Phasing down coal by 2050 for these countries is unrealistic and thus more finance and technology is needed to assist countries to make a speedier transition away from coal.

What happens next?

How can countries that are so heavily dependent on coal seek a just transition away from this fossil fuel? It will of course take time, and a clear pathway and direction to alternative energy use, and the fact that this is the first COP to even address this fuel as warming the planet is a relief (Mathiesen, 2021). Day 7 negotiations focused on nature-based solutions, “Nature-based solutions are absolutely critical,” said UN Environment Programme Chief Inger Andersen. “When we protect nature, nature provides security for us. It gives us the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe.” (United Nations, nd). Carbon emissions also have direct effect on food that we consume (Schartup et al., 2019). The next COP27 to be held in Egypt will be a time to really understand how governments have demonstrated and actualised policies in tackling climate action.

stepping stones
How do we get from here to there? (photo by Sam Rogers)

So, here at BEES we want to see the glass as half full. We want to continue providing you all with the knowledge to better equip your understanding of how the natural world can provide a myriad of possibilities in helping to restore and rejuvenate our ecosystems.

In 1970, at the time of the 1st European Conservation Year, President Nixon sent a message addressing environmental issues:

’... we in this century have too casually and too long abused our natural environment. The time has come when we can wait no longer to repair the damage already done, and to establish new criteria to guide us in the future.

'The fight against pollution, however, is not a search for villains. For the most part, the damage done to our environment has not been the work of evil men, nor has it been the inevitable by-product either of advancing technology or of growing population. It results not so much from choices made as from choices neglected, not from malign intention, but from failure to take into account the full consequences of our actions.

“The tasks that need doing (…) call for fundamentally new philosophies of land, air and water use, for stricter regulation, for expanded government action, for greater citizen involvement, and for new programs to ensure that government, industry and individuals all are called on to do their share of the job …”

(Bulletin of the European Information Centre for Nature Conservation, Council of Europe, Summer 1970).

We and you, as citizens, have our share of the job. By learning and caring more about our environment, together we can make a difference. By sharing with others how to look after our green spaces, to reduce our carbon footprints, to better recycle and reuse, and better preserve our natural resources and heritage, we can help and give a chance to our beloved planet Earth and limit global warming to 1.5°C. Because after all climate change “is not just about what the weather is like in the next 10 years, it’s also about what’s on your plate in the next five” said Amina Schartup of Harvard University (Yong, 2019).

It is time to feel empowered by our surroundings, learn and protect the nature in our communities to give us all and future generations a chance for a healthier, greener planet! Let’s make 2022 a year of changes for us and our children!

Give future generations a chance for a healthier, greener planet! (photo by Sam Rogers)

We wish you a happy and green journey from everyone at BEES.




Further Information

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Updated: Feb 7

What a year! 2021 has been a very difficult year for everyone, personally, professionally and emotionally and we hope that you all have managed to recover from it and are now enjoying the outdoors again with your family and friends. Here at Biodiversity and Environmental Education Society (BEES) we decided to go ahead with the first nature guide training course programme in the UK. After almost a year of the BEE a Nature Guide course programme, it is time to share with you all what we have done so far.

So, what did we actually do in 2021?

Lackford Lakes (Suffolk Wildlife Trust)

We launched the programme in January with 11 of you in Suffolk and 15 of you in Norfolk. Yes, it has been challenging but what an amazing journey it has been so far! Learning about wildlife and our natural heritage from our expert teachers (find out more about the course here). Learning about ecosystems and the interrelationships between species, discovering or rediscovering the diversity of our British birds, mammals, insects, amphibians and reptiles, and finding out the intrinsic link between rabbits and parsnips are just a glimpse of what we learned during the first six months of 2021. But this was just the beginning of a great journey with so much more to come and discover about our natural heritage.

Most of all, what a treat to meet and get to know our very first participants, coming from different backgrounds but all like-minded and with a common interest in learning, protecting and sharing with others nature’ secrets and what our natural world has to offer to all of us.

Online sessions

The theoretical element of our course programme is run on Moodle, our online learning platform. A great place for sharing thoughts, ideas, or course handbooks, for our live online sessions and for keeping the recordings of the online lectures. We had to be creative during the lockdown and sent boxes with soil samples and a pH kit for instance they used during the online practical session of soil science.

Our soil testing activity pack

Outdoor activities

As restrictions were lifted, we finally met in-person and resumed the outdoor activities, visiting various natural sites being looked after by the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB or Country Parks in both Suffolk and Norfolk.

Strumpshaw Fen (RSPB)
Strumpshaw Fen (RSPB)


Hearing positive feedback from our participants has helped the team to keep going in these strange times:

“…I have managed to get to them (sessions) all so far and have found them great!” C.C
“…the course has been amazing and inspirational…” D.H
“…a huge thank you for organising an outstanding day yesterday…It was such a treat on so many levels but the main one was to be able to meet up in person so that we could all share our passion, enthusiasm and joy for the natural world. Such a friendly and open bunch of people - a real tonic to the soul after the last year. Thank you for bringing us together…” L.C
“Just to say how much we enjoyed yesterday's field trip at the Blickling Estate and thank you so much for the great packs Lee gave us. The booklets are fantastic and such a help. ...We are very grateful for your input, for us it's the start of a journey. A humble thank you for all your amazing work!” I.M
“I just wanted to tell you how excellent the BEES programme is and the level of organisation is outstanding. Thank you to you, Lee and all the team for your hard work.” L.C

A sample of our course handbooks

Interested in the course?

Feel free to register your interest by filling out our online form here. Please accept our apologies if you have already filled out the form and haven’t heard from us just yet. Our small team is working hard on the ongoing course programme we are running in Suffolk and Norfolk and are struggling to keep up at the moment! But we are grateful to have found two new volunteers to help us with our course operations.

At present, we are focussing on firmly establishing the course in Suffolk and Norfolk before we look to expand to new regions. But, it has always been our intention to grow and cover the whole of the UK. So stay in touch and look out for our future developments, we might be running the BEE a Nature Guide training course in your area in the not too distant future.

Our next sessions in Suffolk and Norfolk are planned for 2022 but at the time of writing, we cannot give you a starting date for 2022. Because of the pandemic, the first year of our first training course programme has had to be extended over the beginning of next year, which will impact the start of the second course sessions. But we will keep our subscribers informed by email as well as on our blog in the coming months. If you are still interested in registering on the course by that time, we will provide you with booking details to finalise your place on the next course.

How to get involved and help us out?

Finally, if you are passionate about nature and would like to dedicate some spare time for a good cause, we are still looking for volunteers to increase our team and help us with the outdoor activities and day-to-day running of the charity. Please get in touch with us. We would love to hear from you.

Every little helps

We are all volunteers and make no profit from the BEE a Nature Guide training course. In fact, the course costs more to run than we charge our participants for attending. We made this decision to ensure that the course remains as financially accessible as possible. As such we rely on donations and other sources of funding to help cover the cost of providing the course.

If you like what we are doing and would like to support us from where you are, please make a donation here:

Every contribution will help us to carry on providing a high quality training course. Your donations could help to pay for the following:

  • Production of course handbooks - these are designed, printed and bound in-house in order to keep costs, and our carbon footprint, as low as possible

  • Cost of visiting wildlife sites - many of our outdoor practical sessions take place on land managed by other great organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts or RSPB. Making use of these fantastic sites for our course usually involves paying a fee or making a donation to those organisations

  • Equipment costs - to ensure participants get the most out of our sessions we purchase additional resources, such as identification guides, pond dipping/surveying equipment, digital microscopes, binoculars and hand lenses

  • First aid training - our first aid course is provided by an external certified first aid training provider, who charge us for this service

We would like to finish by saying: A big thank you to our partners, teachers, participants, volunteers and followers for making this journey all worth it.

Keep on enjoying the outdoors and learning about nature.

HaBEE day to you all and have a festive season.

Anneloes and the BEES Team.

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