M&S faces backlash over plans to release 30 million bees | The bees


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An attempt by Marks & Spencer to ‘do good for the environment’ by freeing 30 million bees in the British countryside backfired, with conservationists warning that the move could damage ecosystems and deprive wild pollinators from valuable food sources.

The UK retailer has placed up to 1,000 beehives on 25 farms to produce honey on a single estate for customers as part of its five-year Farming with Nature program. The bees are in cedar hives, many made in the 1930s, with plenty of nectar nearby, according to a company blog.

But the announcement was greeted with dismay by some bee experts and conservationists. “Such and [sic] missed opportunity M&S is greenwashing or beewashing at its most obvious ”, a tweeté Gill Perkins, Managing Director of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

Critics say M&S should focus on restoring native habitats instead of releasing millions of bees, which are just one of nearly 270 species of bees in the UK, many of which are in sharp decline . “They end up doing something that can harm the environment,” said Matt Shardlow, director of conservation charity Buglife.

A bee collects pollen from a winter crocus.
An increase in bees can alter habitats because they only pollinate certain types of plants. Photographie: Geoffrey Swaine / Rex / Shutterstock

“There aren’t enough wildflowers to support the populations we have. It’s about creating a better campaign for pollinators, not throwing more pollinators into the countryside – we need to bring more pollen and nectar into the countryside, ”he said.

Globally, one in four known bee species has not been recorded since 1990, according to a study published earlier this year.

Professor Dave Goulson, a bumblebee specialist at the University of Sussex, tweeted: “Just adding more bees is not the answer to the drop in pollinator numbers!” … Come on @marksandspencer, do your homework. “

A French study published in 2019 found that the spread of the honey bee around the world threatens local biodiversity as it overtakes wild pollinators such as hoverflies, bumblebees and red mason bees.

“It’s not at all natural – it’s agriculture,” said Steven Falk, environmentalist and pollinator advisor. He said the ad was worrisome and that the chain had “horribly hurt” it.

“I would like it to be held accountable for the needs of wild pollinators, which means more habitat and fewer beehives,” he said. “There is growing evidence that if you saturate the landscape with bees, it has a profound impact and puts pressure on wild pollinators.”

A bumblebee hovers over a patch of clover
A drone in flight. Experts fear there aren’t enough wildflowers to support the bee population. Photographie: Rebecca Cole / Alamy

Globally, three quarters of crops depend on insect pollination by insects or other animals. Bees pollinate only one third of crops in the UK, while two thirds of crop pollination is carried out by wild pollinators. Many California almond farms depend on imported commercial European bees to pollinate their crops, which could further damage the ecosystem of rare bee species struggling to survive.

Research has found that wild pollinators – of which there are around 6,000 in the UK – are twice as effective as bees at pollinating rapeseed, coffee, almonds, tomatoes and strawberries. This is in part because insects, such as leaf cutter bees and mason bees, collect dry, powdery pollen and spread more on flowers than bees, whose pollen is wetter and adheres better to them. body.

An increase in managed honeybee densities can also alter habitats as they only pollinate certain plant species. “A number of bees specifically pollinate scabious flowers, or yellow loosestrife or speedwell flowers, and the bee doesn’t pollinate a lot of flowers because it’s a generalist and goes for the big showy stuff.” , Shardlow said.

A hoverfly and red mason bee on wildflowers
A hoverfly and a red mason bee. The spread of the European bee around the world threatens local biodiversity as it outshines other wild pollinators. Photographie: Tony Phelps / Alamy

M&S said releasing the bees was only part of its five-year Farming with Nature program, which is expected to boost pollinator biodiversity.

“It is designed to help our selected farmers become more resilient in the face of the greater environmental challenges they face and to promote the adoption of nature-friendly farming practices,” said a spokesperson for M&S.

“We are committed to sustainable agriculture that protects wild pollinators, including bumblebees and solitary bees, so we have placed our bee hives in very carefully selected areas, in small groups and over two miles apart. to avoid overcrowding a particular area. None of our bees are imported.

“We are discussing how to develop the project with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and we are also in conversation with Buglife – we hope to work closely with them to feed all UK pollinators.”

Anne Rowberry, president of the British Beekeepers Association, which represents hobbyist beekeepers, said: “We don’t want to see an area overloaded with bees because we take care of all the solitary bees and bumblebees and they all need more. of fodder.

Find more coverage of the Age of Extinction here and follow the biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

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