17 December 2012
Natural England has today announced changes to the regulations affecting the use of imported non-native bumblebees for commercial pollination.
The changes – which will be implemented from 1 January 2013 - are designed to help safeguard the health of native bumble bees and honey bees and will see a tightening of the licensing regulations.
The changes reflect growing global concerns around the impact which commercially-reared bees may be having on native bumble bees and honey bees – with evidence that they are competing and breeding with native insects; disrupting the pollination of native plants and introducing diseases and parasites.
Non-native bumble bees - predominantly subspecies of the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) - are widely used for pollination in commercial horticulture in England, having been bred in continental Europe and then specially imported. Natural England is keen to ensure that licensing changes do not have a disproportionate impact on growers and suppliers, whilst providing better safeguards for protecting native bee populations.
Introducing the new licensing arrangements, Janette Ward, Natural England’s Regulation Director said: “We recognise the important economic role that commercially-reared bumblebees play in agriculture and the heavy reliance that some sectors of the horticulture industry have on non-native bumble bees in order to produce high quality fruit and vegetables.
“However, we cannot ignore increasing evidence about the threats facing our natural pollinators. In introducing stronger safeguards, we are seeking to balance conservation concerns with the needs of the horticulture industry, taking into consideration the wider agricultural services provided by bees.”
Currently, non-native bumble bees released for agricultural purposes are licensed under Natural England’s General Licence system. The new regime will operate under Natural England’s Class Licence system - requiring registration of the release premises in order to allow improved monitoring of impacts on surrounding wildlife and investigation of disease patterns. Growers should make every attempt to register their premises under the new scheme as soon as possible, although this will be viewed pragmatically as the new system embeds. An improved disease-screening protocol for importers, requiring sensitive laboratory analysis will also become compulsory.
The key elements of the new licensing regime are:
All growers wishing to use non native bumblebees will be required to register their premises with Natural England before the bumblebees are released.
Producers of commercial non-native bumblebees will be required to follow an improved disease-screening protocol, requiring sensitive laboratory analysis to detect a greater range of bee diseases and pathogens. Bumblebees found to be infected by disease or parasites will not be permitted into the UK.
Non-native bumblebees will only be permitted for use in greenhouses or poly-tunnels and all reasonable steps must be taken to prevent their escape.
Bumblebee queens must be kept inside their hives. After use for pollination, all non native colonies must be destroyed to prevent establishment in the wild.
Natural England will monitor licences to ensure that the non native bumblebees are being used appropriately. The unlicensed release of non-native bumblebees is a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to £5,000 and / or a six month prison sentence.
These changes will take effect from 1 January 2013. Further information on what the changes involve and what you need to do to apply for a licence.
Research has suggested that in the USA, bumblebee decline has resulted from diseases spread by commercially reared bees. Elsewhere, commercially-reared non-native bumblebees are believed to cause ecological damage by competing with native insect species and interfering with natural pollination of wild flowers. This is of particular concern when these non native species become established in the wild, which has already been reported in Japan, Israel, New Zealand and Tasmania.
Natural England is the government’s independent adviser on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
Media enquiries only, please contact: Melissa Gill, Natural England Press Office on 0300 060 2983. Out of hours, please call the duty press officer on 07970 098005. For further information about Natural England please visit: www.naturalengland.org.uk