It was late this afternoon that a text arrived on my phone: “Scones r done.x” and I remembered that I had been invited by my friend Liz for a cream tea. I hopped into the car and drove over the hill to her home. Her husband, Don, was on the phone. The phone was passed to Liz as a beekeeping question had been posed. Liz swiftly passed the phone to me as having more expertise.
The caller was a person with whom probably I had last conversed at school in 1964, or maybe a few years later at the Rugby Club or the Antelope. Nowadays he is an agromonist and he wanted to be updated on what to do when his client intended to spray insecticide on fields of oilseed rape. I gave him the name and location of the County BKA’s Spray Liaison Officer (it was my job once upon a time). This is fairly pointless as she will have little idea as to who keeps bees where, there being no register. Even a list of addresses would be of little use as many people keep bees elsewhere than at home. I have some 100 miles away!
Once upon a time, spray-related deaths of bees were very common but nowadays there are few incidents. I emphasised to the caller the importance of sticking to the instructions on the packet, not mixing several treatments, and spraying at times when the bees aren’t flying. He pointed out that he had observed bees foraging very early in the morning. I don’t get up that early but can see that it is difficult for a farmer or contractor effectively to avoid foraging times. Also there is the problem of the weather. The farmer may intend to spray at 7.30 next Wednesday morning and inform the Spray Liaison Officer to that effect, but, come the intended time, it might be raining or the wind blowing in the wrong direction.
If the SLO has discovered who keeps bees within range and contacted them, bearing in mind that the bees might fly for miles to a nectar-laden crop if there’s not much else in flower, and the beekeepers stress their bees by shutting them in for the day, then all the effort might be wasted and have to be repeated soon afterwards.
Pesticides have changed somewhat since the days of DDT and ‘silent spring’ but they are still a potential hazard to beneficial insects, insectivorous animals, passers by, water sources and even, potentially, the important person at the top of the food chain – me! OK, you too.
I described in an earlier article (We’re all doomed!) the view of the Crop Protection Association that we would all be very hungry or paying much more for food without their products and I don’t have sufficient knowledge to argue effectively against this view. The fact that the CPA Chairman chose to address a clutch of beekeepers and that their literature bears the logo of the BBKA is evidence that they are aware of the importance of bees and (possibly) other pollinators but my conversation with a professional agronomist shows that we are a little short of practical information.
So, in brief, my answer to the agronomist is a firm ‘Don’t know’.