The British Beekeepers’ Association is moving away from cash sponsorship deals with pesticide manufacturers after concerns that the chemicals may be harmful to bees.
Bee numbers in Britain are down 54 per cent in 20 years, double the rate of the rest of Europe, according to research by the University of Reading.
The 135-year-old charity endorses four pesticides — synthetic pyrethroids — used to combat the varroa mite that is linked to the collapse of colonies. In return, for the past 12 years the association has received £17,500 a year from Bayer Crop Sciences and Syngenta.
This relationship angered many members and some left the association. Phil Chandler, a writer and beekeeper from Devon, set up a rival campaign, Biobees, to promote chemical-free beekeeping.
Research from China indicates that synthetic pyrethroids are toxic to bees and cut the number of eggs hatched.
Companies have introduced new pesticides, neonicotonoids, which are also blamed for wiping out bees. They are banned in France, Italy, Germany and Slovenia, and the Soil Association, which champions organic farming, wants a similar ban here.
Beekepers too are concerned about these new products and have declined to endorse them.
The BBKA, which has 17,000 members, is already identifying new sources of income to fund its annual budget of £250,000, such as a deal with Saga, which is sponsoring an “Adopt a Beehive” scheme.
Tim Lovett, public affairs director for the BBKA, said: “We have always taken a pragmatic approach to the use of pesticides and to ensure proper stewardship of the products. But we have not endorsed the newer compounds called neonicotonoids and have called for more research on their safety. We are therefore now budgeting to ensure that we have no dependence at all on payments for product endorsement and we anticipate funding from the two chemical companies will end.”
Mr Chandler was pleased by the change of policy but said: “They seem to be dropping the sponsorship quietly when what I would like to see is them coming out more vocally against agricultural pesticides. But I am happy if they are stopping the endorsements.”
The BBKA is adamant, however, that the older pesticides will remain a tool for beekeepers, and it will continue to discuss safety with manufacturers.