Oxford Bee Summit 2014

The Oxford branch of Friends of the Earth (FoE) organised the Oxford Bee Summit on Friday 7th Feb 2014 in the spectacular setting of Oxford’s Natural History Museum.

The purpose of the summit was to inform us about the National Pollinator Strategy, and discuss and brainstorm this and local initiatives with councillors and other local environmental groups. Oxford’s Green Party was heavily represented and someone represented our European MP, who couldn’t make it. Also attending were people from OBKA, local schools, Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust, Oxford and Oxford Brookes Universities, Cultivate Oxford, and a dozen or more other local organisations.

Below I cover the main points I took from each speaker in the morning session, and also the key points from my workgroup in the afternoon session.

Morning session

The morning consisted of a series of short talks and Q&A with the following speakers. I have summarised the points that made the most impact on me and also linked to the videos of the speeches, where available:

Professor Charles Godfray, Hope Professor of Zoology, University of Oxford and Chair of the Pollinators Expert Advisory Group convened by DEFRA – VIDEO

  • Scientists have two duties when advising government: evaluating data and then advocating a strategy.
  • There is surprisingly little hard data to go on for many pollinators on which to base strategy. (A later speaker made the point that this is because people tend not to bother recording things until they start going awry.)
  • He stressed how important Citizen Science is going to be. I.e. normal citizens reporting observations via the internet.
  • With the ban on neonics he hopes farmers will switch to IPM (i.e. only use pesticides when an outbreak occurs), which he considers a good solution, but he fears they will just switch to blanket sprays of some other insecticide.
  • DEFRA evaluate a wide swathe of pollinator issues such as bumblebee imports, the Common Agricultural Policy, and environmental interventions such as wild flower borders for fields.
  • In his opinion the evidence for the effects on pollinators of the low levels of neonicotinoids found in nectar & pollen is unclear so far.

Ivan Wright, Local bee expert and Chairman of Shotover Wildlife VIDEO

  • Expert on solitary bees. Showed us how these bees don’t use pollen baskets, so they spread their pollen around much more effectively for pollination (see picture)
    Pollen without baskets

    Pollen without baskets

    • Oxfordshire has ~150 species of bee (there are ~250 in the UK). A good garden has over 40 species.
    • He showed us maps of honeybee distribution in Oxfordshire. This showed big gaps between towns where something is pollinating the crops. He thinks wild pollinators. I think he may be unaware that Oxfordshire has perhaps 200 beekeepers and many keep bees in out-apiaries.
    • The smallest bees can only fly ~0.5km from their nest (honeybees are more like 3km)
    • He is very, very worried about neonics affecting insects’ ability to navigate back to their nests and thinks if they continue to be used, we will be reduced to shrinking islands of pollinators which will eventually dwindle away.

Colin Tudge, co founder of Oxfordshire Campaign for Real FarmingVIDEO

  • I have little to say about this presentation as the views on reduced pesticide use in farming and small vs large scale agricultural practices are eerily similar to the values espoused elsewhere on this blogsite
  • Studies from Brazil, Italy et alia show that if you withdraw neonicotinoids there isn’t a massive increase in pests
  • IPM is much cheaper than blanket use of pesticides

Paul de Zylva, Senior Nature Campaigner, Friends of the Earth – VIDEO

  • The guy behind the National Bee Action Plan.
  • FoE got some academics to work out how much UK farmers would have to spend if they had to resort to hand pollination, as has happened in parts of China where all pollinators died. Answer: £1.8 billion.
  • 20 species of British bee have gone extinct since 1900
  • There are now 200 cross party MP’s supporting the Bee Cause
  • Little things add up!

Eleanor Lischka, Plant Health, Bees and Seeds Policy, DEFRAVIDEO

  • As the sole representative of the body responsible for UK farming policy, she needed thick skin as everyone seemed to hold her personally responsible for, well, everything.
  • A strategy document is being issued by DEFRA for public consultation this month and the final pollinator strategy document will come out later in the year
  • Need sound evidence base but only really have decent data for honeybees, butterflies & moths; the Bumblebee Trust also gives DEFRA good data, as does BWARS (wasps eat pollinators so this is useful indirect data). Flies and solitary pollinators are a blind spot as so few people are interested in them.
  • Launching 12 projects to gather evidence base (the phrase Citizen Science popped up again – this will require training people in species identification)
  • An independent report, the Status and Value of Pollinators is about to be published
  • DEFRA reckons neonics are not the only pesticides with the potential to damage pollinators
  • One of the next steps they plan is gathering examples of local best practice to share – could we provide any examples?

Steven Falk, Entomologist from Bug LifeVIDEO

  • This was a fascinating and inspiring talk largely about Bug Life’s B-Line project, connecting areas of the country with avenues of pollinator friendly plants.
  • There was so much great info in this dense presentation that I stopped taking notes and watched in awe, so I had best refer you to the video of his talk and Bug Life’s website.
  • Everyone else is talking about doing stuff; these guys are actually doing it – and on a significant scale.
  • Later on, a speaker referred us to Steven Falk’s Flickr collections as a splendid tool for identifying odd creatures in your garden.

Afternoon session

The 50 or so delegates were split into five groups and brainstormed what we could do next for pollinators with FoE co-ordinators guiding the discussions and recording our ideas on flip charts.

I didn’t make comprehensive notes on all that was said, but I noted some points which particularly struck me:

  • There are lots of biodiversity groups round Oxford but they’re all doing their own thing.
  • Six, or perhaps just three, people control perhaps 60% of the public land round the city; could they be contacted? As the parks & gardens department is already on a green and blue scheme, and the Green party comprises 10% of the council, they may well be very open to more pollinator-friendly ideas. (Also, what about the Church of England as a major landowner?)
  • The colleges own a lot of land round here. Every month there is a Conference of Colleges, could pollinator friendly policies be put on the agenda there?
  • These days, high end lawns are treated with neonics to kill cockchafers; this turns them into a bug free sterile zone. A student remarked that for several months of the year, students are warned not to touch the grass at Magdelene College to avoid burns from lawn treatments. This seems excessive.
  • The public perception of bees and wasps is focused on their stings; there is a worrying disconnect from nature among segments of society
  • B&Q are no longer selling neonic pesticides, and are labelling plants they sell as bee-friendly where appropriate. (B&Q had two representatives at this summit. They seem serious about community responsibilities.)
  • Britain in Bloom and Best Kept Village should de-emphasize simply showy flowers and award more credit for pollinator-friendly displays and more permanent planting for all seasons.

Overall I found the Oxford Bee Summit very interesting, especially in how it brought together people with similar interests who perhaps don’t usually network together.

I’d like to thank FoE, and particularly local organisers Fiona Tavner and the other hardworking staff of Oxford FoE, for this extremely well run event; and look forward to hearing more on the ideas the FoE collated and what might be taken forwards, both by them but also by some of the other groups represented, while personally following up some of the ideas myself!

FYI, there is also a short write-up of the event in the Oxford Mail

Oxford Bee Summit 7 Feb 2014

Oxford Bee Summit 7 Feb 2014


I hope the above is an accurate representation.- please contact me/comment here if you were a speaker and would like to amend or add anything.

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2 Responses to Oxford Bee Summit 2014

  1. Pingback: Oxford Bee Summit 2014 – videos now viewable online | Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group

  2. Pingback: Oxford Bee Fest & Summit May 2016 – register now | Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group

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