Some of Britain’s’ leading bee specialists are urging people to help save the endangered insect – in which 35 different species are at danger of dying out – in a lively conversation at Birmingham’s most sustainable restaurant.
Opus at Cornwall Street, a restaurant known for its ethical sourcing practices, hosted 40 guests to discover why these crucial creatures are at danger and what can be done to save them.
The panel, chaired by BBC Midlands Today Science, Environment and Rural Affairs Correspondent Dr David Gregory-Kumar, included Sharif Kahn, President of Birmingham & District Beekeepers Association (BDBKA), Professor Keith Walters, specialist in invertebrates and researcher into neonicotinoids at Harper Adams University and University College London and Simon Needle, Ecologist, Woodland and Conservation Manager at Birmingham City Council.
The panel agreed that whilst controversial pesticides, neonicotinoids, are getting a lot of the blame for the demise of bees, there are a number of factors contributing to their falling numbers. The neonicotinoid issue is complicated – such as whether small doses of the pesticide is damaging or not – however it was agreed that the UK could learn much from the Danish model of use and application of pesticides.
The UK’s increasingly unconventional weather patterns are a factor in the depletion of the bee population, as is the pressure to build more car parking spaces and the community wanting to see public green spaces kept neat and tidy, which reduces the opportunity for bees to forage.
A comment from the audience, included: “I see it all the time – another garden or green space being paved over in the city to turn into a car park. It’s not the council that makes this decision but it’s us, the public. We’re the ones asking the council for more car parks in the city. We need to find a way to encourage us to not do this, or even leave part of the car park as a garden for bees.”
Another audience member, added: “Cutting the grass too often in public places is another factor. Sadly, I think it’s also down to public pressure as to why it’s cut so often, simply because it looks more attractive. However, the council need to do a better job at communicating the importance of keeping the grass longer if we want the community to tolerate it.”
Since the 1900’s, the UK has lost 20 species of bees with a further 35 currently considered under threat of extinction. Without these intriguing insects, it is estimated that a third of our diet would be lost due to the catastrophic effect it would have on crops and would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate their produce without them.
Despite these worrying numbers, the panel agreed that “all was not lost” in trying to save the bees and that as a community, we could halt the decline of the species.
Panelist Sharif Khan, said: “Can we become a nation of beekeepers? Yes, I believe that we can. Whilst we don’t all have to tend to them in the traditional beekeeper sense, what we can do is provide habitats. As a panel, we all agree that there is a considerable move recently within the city to encourage our city gardens – or green deserts as I like to call them – but there are still lots of areas that the city council has a responsibility for, such as our parks and riverways. Yes, they look lovely because they are mowed and well-kept, but as the public, we need to be encouraging them to plant more wildflowers for bees to feed on.”
Speaking after the event, Ann Tonks, director of Opus at Cornwall Street, said: “Bees are in serious danger at the moment and yet, we don’t feel enough people are aware of how quickly their numbers are declining. That’s why we’ve taken action and hosted an evening of conversation dedicated to them, to get the people of Birmingham talking and saving our bees.
“The panel and audience were superb tonight. It was fantastic to hear how each of us can help to protect pollinators and we encourage those who attended the evening to spread the word and help create safe habitats for bees to survive.”
The restaurant hosted its ‘Bees in the City’ event as part of its ‘Opus in Conversation’ series – a collection of talks discussing matters important to the city. The next ‘Opus in Conversation’ evening will be hosted in 2017.
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