THE disappearance of our
bees is a concern and a mystery. Hive populations have been falling
at an astonishing rate in many parts of the world.
The European ban on
neonicotinoid pesticides has been welcomed by bee supporters,
although the British Government has resisted it, and the
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson remains opposed, finding the
arguments in favour of the ban unconvincing. It is also claimed
that the moratorium will cause problems for farmers who may well
resort to older and less effective pesticides.
This is the kind of
question where science and emotion can find themselves at war. The
emotions are easy. I find the disappearance of the bees deeply
troubling. It is as if a part of nature has given up on us - and
not just any part of nature. Bees pollinate our crops, our plants,
our wildflowers. They are the humble, "busy" workers, on whom so
much of our food depends. Their buzzing is the welcome sound of
Beyond this, their
presence and what they do indicate that we are part of an organic
whole, which is greater than ourselves. We are children of earth,
and they help to ground us in this basic fact. If the bees have
abandoned us, what is that telling us?
There are, of course,
many answers to this question, but the most obvious is that it is
our fault. Producers of chemicals, short-sighted farmers, voracious
supermarkets, consumers who care for nothing but cheap and
plentiful food are all to blame for the demise of the bees.
judges us, and finds us guilty. Well-meaning Christians can join
this chorus, and, of course, it may all be true. If something is
not done, we will end up like the Chinese, who send millions of
low-paid workers to pollinate the crops by hand, an army of human
bee-substitutes, armed with tiny brushes.
But the science is
trickier than both our feelings and our fears. Neonicotinoids are
not responsible for the fall of all bee populations; they are
widely used in Hungary, for example, and there appears to be no
Nevertheless, a two-year
moratorium on their use at least gives us the chance to discover
whether some populations can recover in their absence. We should
let science, conservation experts, and nature do what they can to
save the bees. Nature is deep, and recovers its integrity whether
or not that recovery is to our advantage. If we care, our part is
to get the facts right and to co-operate.
The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church,
Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the
diocese of Oxford.