Projects secure Insect Pollinators Initiative funds but lack of applied science criticised

The Insect Pollinators Initiative has awarded up to £10m to nine projects looking at pollinator decline but they lack the applied science to make a difference in the short term, according to the British Bee Keepers Association (BBKA).

The fund aims to reverse pollinator decline by supporting research that can inform policy. It is a joint initiative from the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust, under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change partnership.

Announcing the projects last week, partnership director Professor Andrew Watkinson said: "To tackle a complex problem like the decline of pollinating insects, where there are a number of potential causes, requires wide-ranging research.

"That is why it is so important that a number of funding organisations have come together in this initiative to provide the essential breadth and critical mass of research that would not be possible if the individual funders worked in isolation."

But BBKA president Martin Smith said the projects were too focused on pure science and will not offer solutions to bee keepers, who desperately need them in the short term.

He explained: "To be able to manage the honey bee population successfully we are going to need to develop pretty quickly some alternatives that can be applied to combat the Varroa mite. The projects are excellent but in terms of actual particular results for bee keepers in the next two to five years it's unlikely that we are going to see any impacts. We are disappointed that the fund has moved in that pure science direction. We feel the really applied research is missing."

Smith said the BBKA would use its own limited resources to leverage funds to support the applied research of those whose applications were rejected by the BBSRC.

He added that it was premature to blame pesticides for pollinators' problems and argued that the media had over emphasised the fact that one of the nine projects will study their impact.

"People can only use pesticides that are licensed so any concerns that anybody has can be investigated by the registration system," said Smith. "The number of incidents of bees that have died in the field, where it has been proven to be the result of pesticide use, has declined significantly in the past few years. That's as a result of better practices in pesticide use so we have to start from that perspective.

"We do have concerns about the long-term effects of the use of Neonicotinoids but we always say there are a whole range of factors killing bees in this country. Yes, pesticides could be one, but at this stage we haven't seen any evidence that it's happening in this country."

PROJECTS FUNDED UNDER THE INITIATIVE

  • Sustainable pollination services for UK crops, Dr Koos Biesmeijer, University of Leeds.
  • Modelling systems for managing bee disease: the epidemiology of European Foulbrood, Dr Giles Budge, Food & Environment Research Agency.
  • Investigating the impact of habitat structure on queen and worker bumblebees in the field, Dr Claire Carvell, NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.
  • An investigation into the synergistic impact of sublethal exposure to industrial chemicals on the learning capacity and performance of bees, Dr Chris Connolly, University of Dundee.
  • Linking agriculture and land use change to pollinator populations, Professor Bill Kunin, University of Leeds.
  • Urban pollinators: their ecology and conservation, Professor Jane Memmott, University of Bristol.
  • Impact and mitigation of emergent diseases on major UK insect pollinators, Dr Robert Paxton, Queen's University Belfast.
  • Unravelling the impact of the mite Varroa destructor on the interaction between the honeybee and its viruses, Dr Eugene Ryabov, University of Warwick.
  • Can bees meet their nutritional needs in the current UK landscape? Dr Geraldine Wright, Newcastle University.

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