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Can going organic help to save pollinator bees?

By Nicola Cottam , 06-May-2014
Last updated on 06-May-2014 at 13:11 GMT

Can going organic help to save pollinator bees?

Organic farming could increase the UK’s pollinator population by up to 50%, according to the Soil Association.

Harvests of mainstay UK fruit crops, like strawberries and apples, are beginning to suffer due to declining numbers of pollinators, says the Soil Association policy director, Peter Melchett - although he says further damage could be prevented with more organic farming.

His comments follow the release of the UK government’s consultation on a 'Proposed National Pollinator Strategy' to halt and reverse the decline in the nation’s pollinators.

While Melchett praised the government’s apparent commitment to protecting pollinators, he was dubious about the strategy’s motives with no discernible changes to the current Integrated Pest Management (IPM) farming system, which aims to limit use of damaging chemicals.

Melchett points out that there is no internationally agreed definition of IPM. It encompasses a wide range of management practices but with no hard evidence to support its efficacy.

If most current UK farming is correctly classified as IPM, as the National Farmers’ Union and most supermarkets say, then the evidence shows that it is definitely not beneficial for pollinators, as these have either continued to decline, or at least not recovered, after many years of IPM farming in the UK,” he said.

“We are calling on the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to drop their claim that there is scientific evidence that IPM could help bees, when none in fact exists.”

A temporary suspension of three neonicotinoid insecticides is already in place within the European Union but researchers have identified a selection of certified insecticides and fungicides which are equally damaging to pollinators, explains Melchett.

The Soil Association believes the best way to resurrect pollinator populations is to introduce more wild flowers and fundamentally change farming systems to limit all pesticide use.

It refers to research that consistently shows 50% higher numbers of wildlife and 74% more wild bees on organic compared to non-organic farms, and approximately 75% more plant species compared to comparable conventional farms.

Peter Melchett added: “This research shows there is a clear solution for pollinators with a known outcome – support organic farming and we can have 50% more species of pollinators in our countryside.”

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