Pesticides and Bees:Keeping Bees Safe In Our Gardens Research Project 

Prof. Dave Goulson and Walacea (Back science you believe in) have joined forces to help you to help bees and buy truly bee friendly flowers. To get some background information read my article,

How friendly are bee ‘friendly’ plants from garden centres?

Read on to enter competition. You could be lucky and win one of my award winning solitary bee observation nest box! worth £70. Applies to mainland UK only. See below.

Bees are in trouble. Around the world many types of bee are in decline, and some species have gone extinct. These declines are driven by multiple factors including loss of wildflowers from the countryside, outbreaks of disease, and exposure to the many pesticides used in modern farming.  This is particularly worrying, as we need bees; they pollinate our crops and our wildflowers. Without bees we would have no strawberries, tomatoes, chili peppers, blueberries or cucumbers, to name just a few. We need to take action to help them.

One action we can all take is to grow bee-friendly flowers in our gardens, providing bees with much-needed nectar and pollen. If every gardener did this we could turn our suburban areas into giant bee nature reserves. Buying plants for bees has proved to be very popular, and most garden centers help by providing labelling to show which plants are best for bees. The Royal Horticultural Society has a special “Perfect for pollinators” label, with a picture of a bumblebee on it. Most bee-friendly flowers are also very pretty, so planting them has the added bonus of making your garden beautiful.

Bumblebee and solitary bee on a 'safe' flower

Bumblebee and solitary bee on a ‘safe’ flower

Neonics- how do they affect bees?

Sadly, there is a problem, a hidden danger. The pretty flowers on sale in garden centres are usually grown on the continent, many of them in the Netherlands, in intensive production facilities. To keep them looking perfect they are treated with chemicals, including a class of insecticide called neonicotinoids which are very harmful to bees. These chemicals, neonics for short, are neurotoxins that attack the brains of insects and paralyse them, or at lower doses leave them dazed and confused. They are tremendously toxic to insects; just one teaspoon of neonic is enough to give a lethal dose to 1 ¼ billion honeybees. There is clear evidence that their use in farming is helping to drive declines of wild bees, and they have also been implicated in declines of butterflies, aquatic insects, and insect-eating birds.

In order to protect bees, neonics have been banned for use by farmers on flowering crops such as oilseed rape, but their use on garden flowers is much less well controlled. If you ask your local garden center whether their plants have been treated with neonics, they usually do not know. Greenpeace recently screened some garden flowers on sale in mainland Europe, and found that many contained neonics and other toxic chemicals. It seems almost certain that this is also true in the UK, but no-one knows for sure. The sad truth is that this weekend a kind-hearted wildlife enthusiast might buy a pretty bee-friendly plant such as lavender, labelled with a RHS “Perfect for Pollinators” sticker, not knowing that it is full of potent neurotoxins and that they will be inadvertently poisoning their bees.

You can read more about neonics and the risks that they pose here.

How long do neonics last?

Neonics in soil can persist for years. They can also last for several years once inside perennial plants. Once you have them in your garden there is no known way to get rid of them, other than waiting many years for them to slowly break down.

Neonicotinoid drift Prof. D Goulson


Our Solution

We want to raise money so that we can screen a range of bee-friendly plants from UK garden centers and identify which ones are truly safe. These could then be sold as neonic-free. If we find significant concentrations of neonics or other harmful chemicals, we would use this information to highlight the issue, putting pressure on the garden centers to buy in only plants that are genuinely good for bees.

Unfortunately this work is not cheap. It is very time consuming to prepare the samples and the expensive equipment needed to screen for the chemicals costs a lot to maintain. This is where we are seeking your help. For £5,000 we can do an initial screening of a selection of bee-friendly plants from UK garden centres. If we can raise even more then we can screen larger numbers of plants and get a clearer picture as to which ones are safe.

About Prof. Dave Goulson

I have been studying bumblebees for more than twenty years, and have written several books about them including the best-selling A Sting in the Tale. I am Professor of Biology and University of Sussex. For the last five years I have been studying the effects of pesticides on wild bees. To help look after our bumblebees I founded a charity, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which currently has 9,000 members around the UK.

Wild bees in your garden

Most people are surprised to learn just how many different types of bee there are; about 270 in the UK, and over 20,000 in the world. They are all important, each visiting and pollinating different flowers. In your garden you are likely to have honeybees, perhaps ten different types of bumblebee, and twenty or more different solitary bee species (the latter being bees that live on their own, rather than in a hive with a queen).

Female Blue mason bee emerging to start her new life

Female Blue mason bee emerging to start her new life

And to thank you for your support….

Pledge £15  – Invitation to a talk by me on bumblebees at University of Sussex, explaining all you need to know about how to plant a bee friendly garden.

Pledge £20 – A4 beautiful bee photo for you to frame as a reminder of the research you supported to help save the bees!  We will give you a choice at the end of the study for you to choose from.

Pledge £30 – Signed hardback copy of my best-selling books “A Sting in the Tale” or “A Buzz in the Meadow” (your choice).  Great to keep for yourself or a perfect present for a bee friendly friend!

Pledge £50 – Signed copy of both “A Sting in the Tale” or “A Buzz in the Meadow” (your choice).  Maybe one for you and one for a friend!

Pledge £150 – All of the above (including both books) and an opportunity to go on a guided bumblebee walk at Sussex University with a friend!

Bee photography competition – FREE TO ENTER

Win a fantastic solitary bee nest box made by Nurturing Nature. I have one of these in my garden and my kids love to open the observation windows and watch the bees at work. You can watch a short video of one below:

To enter, simply post your best bee picture on twitter using #beeboxchallenge and the link“.

Name the bee and plant if you can, but don’t worry if you can’t! The prize will go to the picture that gets the most retweets by 30 June. Good luck!

Adapted from the original article here  scroll down page where you can pledge 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jill jones June 3, 2016 at 12:33 pm

I Had not appreciated the ‘dangers’ inherent in some so called bee friendly plants from commercial sources. Thank you.
I would like to pledge some money but cannot see how to do it on this message. Perhaps you can enlighten me.
Very best wishes for all you are doing.
Jill J


nurturingnature June 4, 2016 at 4:55 pm

Hi Jill, thanks for your support. At the very end of the article is a link to pledge. HTH, if not recontact me. Thanks,George


ann July 3, 2016 at 7:18 pm

Devastating news! I feel like never using a garden centre again for plants.
Thank you so very much for the work you are doing for bees, for us, for the world.
I absolutely love your books, by the way. Brilliant writing! Ann



nurturingnature July 5, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Ann, Ive checked it is on the pages a link ! Cheers, George


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