Decline in bees will hit Scots soft fruit output, warns MSP

Aberdeen Press and Journal, May 20, 2009 Wednesday

DECLINING bee numbers is one of the "most worrying" environmental changes on the planet and will drastically hit food production, including Scotland's soft fruit output, if not reversed, according to a Highland MSP.

Labour MSP Peter Peacock said the decline of honey bees and other insects had been happening unnoticed and yet had profound implications for everyone.

It is estimated 84% of crops in the EU and 80% of wildflowers rely on insect pollination.

In the UK, pollination alone is thought to be worth about £200million a year to British farmers and the total contribution to the economy, including profits from food, could be up to £1billion.

In Scotland, bees are vital to the soft fruit industry, with the raspberry crop worth £52million a year and the blackcurrant crop £8million, while the associated processing industry is worth an extra £200million.

Bee numbers have declined by 10-15% in Britain. Last summer, 80% of hives were killed off in some areas.

Three bumblebee species are extinct and seven others have declined by more than 50% in the past 25 years. Other insects are also dying out, with two-thirds of moths and 71% of butterflies in decline.

The reasons for the decline are not fully understood. It could be a combination of climate change, habitat loss and the use of insecticides. The varroa mite is killing off hives in many areas.

Mr Peacock, who will raise the issue in a members' debate at Holyrood this afternoon, said bees were a vital part of the environment.

"The decline of honey bees is one of the most worrying changes we are seeing in our environment and it has been happening largely unnoticed, yet has profound implications for each and every one of us," he said.

"Two out of every three mouthfuls of the food we eat is reckoned to be pollinated by insects, many of which appear to be in decline, and the implications for food production are worrying." Gardens

Mr Peacock said simple things such as paving gardens was making matters worse, with a loss of flowers that were attractive to bees.

It was announced last month that up to £20million, including £500,000 from the Scottish Government, would be used to fund a project to identify the main threat to bees and other pollinators.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "The impact these insects have on our rural industries, such as the soft fruit sector, and on plant biodiversity across Scotland cannot be underestimated.

"Any reduction in numbers could have catastrophic consequences, not just for our environment but also for our economy."