Brexit: a Real Stinging Sensation

By Liam McDonald, YEM UK International Officer

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a minor obsession with both the EU and with bees: so imagine my excitement when I was asked to write an article about the two.

Over the last hundred years or so, bee populations have vastly decreased for a number of biotic and abiotic factors: From reduction in wildflower populations to climate change, Britain’s natural pollinators are in serious decline. In 2012, researchers at the University of Reading conducting a study into the economic impact bees had on the British economy and estimated that if the bee population of the UK were wiped out, then it would cost £1.8 billion to pollinate our plant populations. This would of course cause the price of fruit and vegetables produced here to rocket in price.
So, the big question is: How does Brexit relate to bees?
Well, this microcosm of life would be in even graver danger if it weren’t for the EU. Back in 2013 the EU members states voted to outlaw 3 pesticides (clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) known as neonicotinoids (despite UK Ministers protests) from the agricultural industry as they were believed to have a harmful effect on bees. Whilst little evidence has been provided to show that neonicotinoids directly affect whole colony, they do have an effect on individual drones. A study conducted by the Free University Berlin found that these chemicals inhibit bees foraging behaviours, such as the “waggle dance” and social communication which is essential for bee’s survival.
However, last year oil seed rape in the UK became challenging to grow and as such UK ministers allowed a temporary uplifting of the EU moratorium on 2 of th chemicals in order to re-stabilise the industry.


What future does pot-Brexit Britain hold for our bees? We’ll have to wait and see.