I have just finished reading Dave Goulson’s – A Buzz in the Meadow. Goulson is Professor of Biology (Evolution, Behaviour and Environment) at the University of Sussex in the UK. He has completed many years of bee research and is a strong advocate of bumblebee conservation and founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in the UK. This is Goulson’s second book, the first was A Sting in the Tail.
In a Buzz in the Meadow Goulson tells us about the fascinating life of insects. He takes as his starting point Chez Nauche, a farm in the heart of rural France, that he bought in 2003. Goulson has been managing the farm in such as way as to encourage wildlife, with of course an emphasis on insects.
Goulson’s style is entertaining and informative. However, by the time he gets to Part III of his book the reading gets depressing. Goulson tells us about some of the experiments he and his colleagues carried out on bumblebees and the effect of chemicals known as neonicotinoids (neonics for short). Goulson refers to Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring and wonders if neonics are todays DDT.
Neonics are the worlds most widely used insecticide. Crop seeds are coated in the neonics and the germinating plant absorbs the chemicals, which then spread throughout the plant. Any insects eating any part of the plant dies. Neonics affect the nervous system and brain. It was Goulson and other researchers from France that proved that the neonics were affecting the bees ability to find their hives (the toxins appear to mess up their navigational system) and hence implicated neonics in Bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Goulson outlines how little we know about these chemical and how they affect insects and other animals. The fact that the chemical will last for up to four decades in the soil is worrying enough, and should ring alarm bells. In addition, by volume neonics are 10,000 times more powerful as DDT.
There was a great article in the UK’s Guardian Newspaper which goes into more details than I will here and I encourage everyone to read it.
Currently in the EU there is a two year ban on the use of certain neonics, it is essential that this is widened. In the USA, the EPA Administrator has just opened a public consultation period on the use of neonics. I encourage everyone (whether US citizen or not) to have their say. You can do so at this AVAAZ link. Global neonic sales, according to Goulson, are thought to be worth $3.5 billion, so it is going to take a lot of people power to get them banned.
And a word of warning. Neonics are present in over- the-counter products you can buy from your garden centre. In my opinion, insecticides have no place in a garden. The garden chemicals won’t be labeled as containing neonics so surely it is better to avoid them altogether!
A Buzz in the Meadow is essential reading for everyone.