Lecture notes from HBKA convention 2021

One more thing to worry about :

Co-formulants by Ed Straw and Mark Brown

Firstly, thanks to Ed for helping Janelle out with the IT all day as our very own Richard Skinner tried gallantly to do it remotely from his COVID sick bed (He was really poorly). Many thanks to all the volunteers for a heroic effort.

What are co-formulants?

They are the product that make pesticides, fungicides and herbicides work and they aren’t tested at all. We concentrate our efforts on insecticides. So Ed Straw and Mark Brown researched co-formulants on buff tailed bumblebees (bombus terrestria) whose workers live for 28 days.

This was part of European Union funded research.

A bit about tests – what they miss and why neonicitinoides were declared ‘safe’

In the tests manufacturers conduct in accordance with legislation, the bees are subjected to a concentrated dose- if 50% survive then the manufacturer can write ‘safe for bees’ on the label. This is like us going to the GP having our pulse taken, confirming we’re alive and sending us on our way. It is not designed for longtitudinal study. Sub lethal effects are not picked up. So bees whose navigation is affected and die away from the hive over a period (neonicotinoids) are not picked up. Incidentally, to make matters worse nicotine is addictive so the bees actively seek it out.

But beekeepers knew something was wrong and kept at it. We can effect change. But we do need to broaden our tactics together.

Trying to test co-formulants

Manufacturers refuse to give detailed information about what is in their products, under commercial competition rules, so this makes testing and working out what is wrong very difficult.

Amistar came onto the market in 1999. It is a new class of chemical. It is the most widely used pesticide ever and says it is ‘safe for bees’. Co-formulants are benzisothiazol, napthalensufonic acid and alcohol ethoxylate (surfant and emulsifier) They have never been tested on bees – not at all.

It affected the bumblebees fat bodies and fat reserves and theynever recovered.  We know from varroa how important fat bodies are in fighting viruses, providing the bees with food through the winter months. Fat bodies aid the liver and kidneys of bees. 

Result of the tests

Why not testing the co-formulants is so dangerous. The co-formulant can be more toxic than the active ingredient. There are 280 ingredients in 2800 products; many untested.

Glyphosate itself, when used as the manufacturer directs is relatively OK, though we know that when Apis Cerane is present it makes the effects worse for our honeybees.

Roundup is terrible.

Its in fungicides, which are applied directly to open flowers such as strawberries 

Herbicides are used routinely.

Going forward – what to do

Talk to farmers! If they are spraying herbicide or fungicide to open flowers. Keep the bees in for the day. Have farmers sign up to and use Bee Connected (https://beeconnected.org.uk/) to alert beekeepers in their area of impending spraying. Add a super for room and shade from the sun. Keep the bees in until such spraying is complete. The Bees will be unhappy but alive.

Advocate for all bees

There is 1 honeybee, 25 bumblebees and 250 solitary bees in UK. All essential for pollination. 7% pesticide effect is unsafe for solitary bee health. Let’s move the goalposts, we must unite our advocacy, education, information and lobbying. No division and rule distraction.

Meridian have for many years talked about the place of solitary bees, bumble bees and wasps in the environment on all our courses, this needs to become a standard.

European Union is moving ahead on the regulation of co-formulants. We are no longer part of European Union so will have to fight separately for legislation and fight for our bees and other insects.

Notes by Louise Evans , Meridian beekeepers

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