Tag Archives: neonicotinoids

Niue’s Bee Sanctuary

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Bee sanctuaries interest me more and more, from the 600-year-old hive in a Rosslyn Chapel pinnacle that I wrote about the other day, to the tiny one I’m working to establish in the middle of a city, to Kangaroo Island, a bee sanctuary since 1885 and on Colonsay, a little island off Scotland. So I was excited to hear about another one, on the South Pacific island of Niue, 100 square miles, population 1400 – not too big, not too small. This time, it’s  a sanctuary with an  economic purpose.

The only beekeeper on Niue, Andy Cory, owns and oversees 1000 hives of Italian bees (Apis mellifera  ligustica) brought to Niue many years ago. Thanks to Niue’s relative isolation, its ideal size and its limited ports and tourism, the bees have effectively lived in a sanctuary ever since, in a tropical paradise for bees.

And now Andy wants to formalise his apiary’s status as a Pacific bee sanctuary, so it is internationally recognised. And he needs our help with his crowdfunding campaign, where he provides some lovely details about his beekeeping life on Niue. Like this, which highlights how he doesn’t need to feed his bees supplemental sugar-

Andy nearly lost all the bees in 2004 [in a cyclone]…the French navy …brought him sugar to feed as a supplement until native vegetation recovered. Consequently, to mitigate against the risk of losing all the bees in the aftermath of future cyclones, we now have a sufficient store of organic sugar on Island.

This is what Andy wants to do, with help from Richard Duncan who is organising the crowdfunding, as he further develops healthy and protected stock to draw from in the future-

Phase 1: strengthen and grow the current apiculture operation on Niue and develop export markets in order  to generate revenue, build partnerships and learning. And provide a solid foundation and financial resources sufficient to underwrite the creation and sustain the operation of a Global Bee Sanctuary.

Phase 2: develop the ‘Global Bee Sanctuary’ and begin to export live bee stocks and/or genetic breeding material to other Pacific Island countries, as well as other key food producing countries. This is where the venture shifts to regional and then global in its impact.

Hive numbers will increase to 4000 and local landowners wIll be paid under a hive rental arrangement. According to Richard Duncan, in an interview with Radio New Zealand

People of Niue, they’re custodians of these bees as well and that’s kind of why we’re shifting to this social enterprise model because we want to bring them more into this whole operation and make sure they are benefiting as well. The business grows. They get a return. Therefore they take pride in protecting these bees and being custodians of these bees.

This is a wonderfully ambitious project and I want to support it as well as I can. It would be glorious to have bee sanctuaries all over the world. And even better if they benefit the people who share their environment.

The government of Niue is right behind Andy and has strengthened bio-security measures to ban the import of all bees and bee products. Nosema does exist but, as in parts of Africa, appears to have negligible effect on the health of the thriving bees. There’s been just one case of American foul brood in 8 years. And Andy’s Save the Bee Honey is certified as organic, after passing all the BioGro NZ tests.

But questions and vigilance are necessary. Every time.

For instance, Andy’s bees may struggle to survive in countries he exports too, often because of exposure to disease and pesticides. (Alderney, a European Channel Island, has a similar challenge within a similar project.) How will he be able to help ‘Save The Bee’ in those places?

Andy’s bees may be better able to resist disease than bees who have always lived in another environment. But will they be able to resist the ill-effects of pesticides there? Recent  research shows that ubiquitous glyphosate is probably carcinogenic and that it harms bees. It also shows that when bees forage they are attracted to widely used neonics – neonicotinoids – that will harm them (see the Bibliography tab above for references). Unless those countries’ inherent risks are reduced, it’s likely that pesticide use will compromise the health of any Niuean bees they import, just as nearby glyphosate spraying and flowers grown from neonic-treated seeds and plants may affect the health of the bees I attract to my garden.

And as Monsanto products in particular become outlawed in some places, it’s likely that the organisation is promoting or will promote them more intensively in other markets. Like Niue. Like parts of Africa. So what about glyphosate and neonic use in Niue, which may compromise it as a sanctuary for bees?

Niueans have New Zealand citizenship so Niue has very close relationships with New Zealand, where import and use of neonics is unregulated. It’s also an agricultural nation (taro, organic vanilla and noni, according to one report I found.) A small risk already exists.

I’ve been told, twice, that Niueans do not use pesticides. But they are there. I found a Niuean ground water analysis (2010) that included a list of pesticides imported into Niue. Glyphosate was on that list and was found present in the water at <0.001 mg.L, significantly lower than United States drinking water standards and not considered problematic.

No neonicotinoids I recognised were on the import list perhaps because, as in New Zealand, it is unregulated. Will the Niuean government’s support of ‘Save The Bee’, as well as organic vanilla and noni, extend to outlawing pesticides and investing in alternative agricultural practices, as a world leader? That would make a huge difference.

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BioGro NZ’s practices are also important. It does not yet test for neonics or glysophate, so there’s been no check of their presence in Andy’s honey.

To certify honey as organic, BioGro NZ tests it under the ‘multiresidue suite’ of approximately 200 common pesticides useHd in New Zealand. The organisation told me-

These  suites do not typically cover glyphosate or neonicotinoids… [W]hen we recently requested isolated glyphosate testing for honey, we were advised that this was not yet offered in New Zealand.

It seems that New Zealand laboratories may extend their services to glyphosate and neonic testing soon, which would resolve this issue for the Niuean organic honey, among others.

And another element of BioGro NZ’s process is encouraging because it reduces the risk of pesticide contamination by certifying-

… only operations where we have verifiable landuser statements for land within 3km radius of the hives confirming no prohibited pesticide use.

The ‘prohibited’ pesticides referred to in landuser statements are those listed in BioGro NZ protocols and they DO include glyphosphate and neonicotinoids, though of course bees can forage beyond 3km.

On balance, after this little bit of research I feel confident that, for now, Niue’s close to a true bee sanctuary for honey-producing bees in the Pacific. And deserves our strong support. It may be one of the few bee-related initiatives that can make a long term difference.

And I wonder what you  think, because I may have missed something essential. Or made an error. Please let me know if so.

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Save the Bee on Facebook

Heartbreak

1.

When I woke up the other morning the bee box was gone.

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A couple of bees remained nearby. I wondered, ‘Will they fly across town to find the others’?

The garden was a little quieter, all day. But it was more than sound. For a few days the bee box and its occupants had added a very special feeling.

That evening, half a dozen bees flew into the kitchen, its door near where I’d stood to watch them move around their box. I helped them to leave the kitchen. Gently. One was very feisty. The others were more passive. One seemed dazed.

Then, as night fell, I looked up. And saw a tiny bee huddle, near where the base of the box used to be.

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I texted the neighbour. Who collected them to take to the rest of the hive, in the morning (with a dose of honey).

That was my little heartbreak for this week. I miss those bees.

But there’s a much larger heartbreak. The neonics story.

2.

It’s taking me longer than I imagined it would to research the nasty chemicals that harm bees– neonicotinoids, or neonics, which I find easier to pronounce and to spell. But it’s almost Labour Weekend  in New Zealand, that big holiday weekend when we all PLANT. So here’s some brief neonics info, for Australasians who visit plant shops this weekend.

Dave Goulson, the scientist who wrote A Sting in The Tale about bumblebees, tweeted this the other day–

A single seed

And this, a wider view of how neonics affect the environment around them–

Into soil etc

Neonics harm bees in various ways, when they go into soil and last for ages and when they go into crops. That little 1% in the dust, I’ve read, kills heaps of bees.

And neoniced flowers also harm bees, even flowers of otherwise beneficial bee plants, flowers that they love. Here’s a view of how neonics move into a single plant with a flower that feeds bees, from a recently released Friends of the Earth report

poster neonics

In the words of the report, this is how the neonics work–

Nurseries commonly apply systemic pesticides as soil injections, granular or liquid soil treatments, foliar sprays (applied to leaves), and seed treatments. Water-soluble pesticides are readily absorbed by plant roots and transported systemically in the plant’s vascular system to other portions of the plant, including roots, pollen and nectar, leaves, stems, and fruit.This systemic action results in the exposure of beneficial, non-target insects such as bees to potentially lethal doses of these pesticides.

Neonics aren’t regulated in New Zealand and I haven’t so far found research about their use here. But when I learned that many seeds are coated with neonics, I thought my garden was safe because I save and exchange seeds and buy them from the Koanga Institute and Kings Seeds and don’t use sprays. I don’t know about other branded seeds on sale at garden centres though. I don’t know about the plants and other products on sale, either.

But the Friends of the Earth research found that 51% of plants sold to consumers at a range of garden centres across the United States Canada were contaminated with neonics–

The high percentage of contaminated plants…and their neonicotinoid concentrations suggest that this problem is widespread, and that many home gardens have likely become a source of exposure for bees. The results indicate that neonicotinoids occur in both flowers and in stems and leaves, with some samples having higher concentrations in flowers than greenery and other samples showing the reverse.

So what can we do this weekend to protect bees? It’s obvious of course. We can ask at our garden centres if their plants or the soil they’ve been raised in have been treated with–

acetamiprid

clothiandin

dinotefuran

imidacloprid (Consumer* names Yates’ Confidor as a product that includes imidacloprid )

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thiacloprid

thiamethoxam

We can look on the labels of the other garden and domestic products we buy (some might be non-garden products like ant killer), for –

acetamiprid

clothiandin

dinotefuran

imidacloprid

thiacloprid

thiamethoxam

(I’m repeating here, planning to make a little song to help me remember the words.)

And we can refuse to buy any seed plant or product that may place our bees at risk.

If you live in Wellington and want some safe bee-loved plants, let me know in the comments and I can provide you with some from my garden, where I’m raising quantities to give away this year, to explore growing them as a business.

And here’s another poster from Friends of the Earth, in case you’d like to print it out for your fridge–

 

Bee safe gardening tips

 

*GARDEN CENTRE BUYERS PLEASE BE AWARE OF THESE TOXIC-TO-BEES PRODUCTS

The Consumer article also refers to some other products. Checking them one by one, in case neonics in New Zealand had different names than I was familiar with, I found these toxic-to-bees products, which may or may not be neonic–

Diazinon

Diazinon, according to the New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, is highly toxic to bees. It is in these products–

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Carbaryl

Carbaryl, according to the University of California at Davis, is also toxic to bees. Consumer names this product as containing Carbaryl (it is also toxic to humans and in New Zealand only ‘approved handlers’ will be able to apply it after July 2015)–

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Acephate

Cornell University research shows that Acephate is toxic to bees. Consumer lists these products as containing Acephate–
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More toxic-to-bees info to come, I’m sure. Please let me know if you have any additions! That’s going to be a multi-verse song, I reckon!