Leaving the EU: what does it mean for British bees and beekeepers?

It was a shock to find out yesterday that Britain had voted to leave the EU. Until the first poll results started coming in I had hoped that, as with the Scottish referendum, the remainers would win out in the end. But then I live in London and we tend to vote differently to the rest of England.

While most of my friends were left as gloomy, worried and angry as I was by the result, reactions were more mixed on the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) Facebook group. Beekeepers involved in bee research or working for the National Bee Unit (NBU) are concerned. The NBU currently receives half a million in funding annually from the EU for the UK apiculture program – see the funding tables for EU member states in 2014-16. This funding helps pay for our excellent bee inspectors, who carry out apiary inspections, provide technical assistance to beekeepers and work to prevent bee pests and diseases spreading.

FERA NBU Beesuit

A NBU inspector’s bee suit. Courtesy The Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), Crown Copyright

Those who voted to leave are of course optimistic about how the result will affect beekeepers. They argue that there will now be more money to go round and that now the government has the freedom to ban imports of bees, which could help with disease control and promote local gene pools. My answer to that would be that I can’t see a Conservative government – or any government – ploughing funds into supporting beekeepers or prioritising banning bee imports. We’ll be lucky if they don’t spend the extra cash on privatising national forests, eliminating the green belt and building some beautiful duck houses.

A NBU training session for London beekeepers

A NBU training session for London beekeepers

Some have lovely ideas that BBKA members should club together and fund the NBU shortfall in funding. I’m sure some of us wouldn’t mind chipping in, but bear in mind that even putting up subscription fees by a pound annually causes much debate at the BBKA Annual Delegates Meetings. Us beekeepers are known for being stingy buggers money savvy. If the bee inspectors could be persuaded to take payment in honey and home brewed mead that might do it.

Here are a couple of posts written before the referendum on how the EU supports environmental policies:

  • The environmental argument for the UK remaining in the European Union – by Jeff Ollerton, Professor of Biodiversity in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Northampton. One of those “experts” the leave campaign scoffed at. He makes the point that environmental issues cross borders,  so working together in coordination with other countries is beneficial for wildlife.

None of us knows for sure what is coming next, but whatever happens I hope British beekeepers will fight together to protect services for beekeepers and flowers for bees.

Caroline Washington, a former NBU bee inspector

Caroline Washington, a former NBU bee inspector

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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36 Responses to Leaving the EU: what does it mean for British bees and beekeepers?

  1. disperser says:

    I feel for you and all thinking people in England.

    . . . meanwhile, we’re watching the progress of our own trainwreck here in the US . . .

    Liked by 2 people

  2. jeffollerton says:

    The pingback for my post came through as I was drafting something similar. I agree, it’s all very worrying.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: What does Brexit mean for British biodiversity? | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

  4. honeymedic says:

    The Greenbelt and open spaces for our bees in southern England are more endangered by uncontrollable migrations of people than by the greed of a few politicians.
    The break up of families and the drift south within the UK add to the need for more housing as well as the free movement of people from the southern EU ,where there is depression and 40-50% youth unemployment. Up to now we have been powerless to put any limit on immigration from a disfunctional Europe.

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  5. Worrying times. I think there is also reason to be concerned over the implications for the temporary neonicotinoids ban, introduced by the EU to protect bees but opposed by the UK government.

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  6. daveloveless says:

    You and the rest of the UK are very much in my thoughts. I don’t pretend to have a horse in this race, but I admit to being hopeful that all works out. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the US side of the pond, it’s that rarely do things end up as bad–or good–as most of us think. Of course the last time one of the states tried to leave the union….

    Fingers crossed!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Another cause for concern is the impact Brexit may have on the temporary EU ban on neonicotinoids, which was opposed by the UK government.

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  8. mcfwriter says:

    I, too, was surprised when I woke up to these headlines on Friday morning. All I could think was “the whole world is going crazy,” as we in the U.S. also deal with an uncertain future and upcoming election. The populism/nationalism/xenophobia issue has become rampant with the world in crisis, and the metaphorical flames are being fanned daily by irresponsible “politicians” and media, as they appeal to the basest of human instincts (fear of “other”) rather than encourage rational thinking and aspire to lead with integrity.

    I hope things settle down in the coming weeks, and that the preservation of habitat (flowers) and support for U.K. beekeepers is maintained going forward. Touch wood!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Scott says:

      Definitely. Politicians will say absolutely anything to get the votes they want and then say afterwards that their words were not promises, only possibilities they can’t carry out after all.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. So far referendums appear to sow discord and confusion. Let’s hope the bees and nature don’t take a back seat in all the confusion. Amelia

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow Emily. We in Canada were shocked too at the news on the Brexit vote. Like you I was sure the undecideds would vote for the status quo and the result would be a narrow margin to stay. Here we have a token Apiculture department, administered by the Provinces, which means a patchwork system, usually in the grip of the large commercial operations, ie. mobile pollination operations. While I have sympathy for their thin profit margins, they often operate in such a way as to cause problems for all the stationary/honey/bee breeding operations, be they large or small. The inspection system does little or nothing to rein them in. And of course farmers and beekeepers of all stripes are on completely opposite sides of the fence (excepting of course the organic farmers). In my bee-dense area, which hosts a lot of berry fields, the bees have to deal with constant pesticide/herbicide/fungicide/fertilizer exposure…which on top of the competition for ever-shrinking forage leaves the bees, as one fellow beekeeper (large operation but ethical!) said, with a low grade flu at all times. We live in interesting times…

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    • Emily Scott says:

      It sounds very difficult for you with all these problems the bees face. How many people round the world eating those berries have any idea of the hard work the little bees put in so that the berries can be produced?

      Like

  11. Miksha says:

    Hi Emily,
    It must have been hard for you to write this post. Many of your beekeeping friends are rural and north England beekeepers who will likely disagree with what you’ve written.
    Beekeeping is a very local activity with climate and economic needs varying so much, even within a country the size of England. So I can understand the feelings of some of the Leave voters who would like more control over their affairs. But they’ll be disappointed. It appears that much of the Leave vote was motivated by xenophobia and by unrealistic expectations. Leaving the EU puts Britain in a vulnerable position. Soon Scotland will be leaving, North Ireland will be uniting with the south, and the finance industry is already making a hasty exit. I’m afraid England and Wales will find the next decades poor and much diminished.
    You are young with a new family, so this must be particularly stressful. Have you considered a new life abroad? We’d love to have you here in Canada! I saw that the day after the referendum, one of the most common search phrases on google.uk was “How do I move to Canada?” 🙂
    Best wishes and good luck,
    Ron

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Ron. I haven’t considered Canada yet, though the idea of living in another country is intriguing! However my thoughts at the moment are of somewhere closer to home – Scotland 🙂

      Like

  12. David says:

    Thanks for quoting me!

    The one thing I’ll say is that any actual exit remains a long way off and much will pass between now and then. My gut feeling is that a lot of Leave voters have a long and ultimately frustrating wait ahead.

    Likely leading tories are rolling back on promises around spending and immigration, and talking about delaying the exit till 2019 or 2020. So don’t be shocked if the General Election then includes a second referendum.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. honeymedic says:

    As Emily very fairly said in her introduction she is looking at the problem from a prosperous cosmopolitan London bubble that has got a rosy eyed view of the EU, a prosperity that is not being shared by much of the rest of the UK and certainly not by southern EU states with 40-50% youth unemployment and no way out because of German inflexibility.
    Many thinking people voted for Brexit for the sake of our children and grandchildren because if a benign Mrs Merkel can dictate the whole of an undemocratic EU government’s policy so might a future character who could not be removed democratically.
    I note that France Italy and Spain consume 1/3 of the total EU Beekeeping funding which is totally unsustainable into the future. The link below from a Remain intellectual is instructive
    https://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/britains-eu-problem-london-problem

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    • David says:

      Not sure I buy that nightmare scenario of the rise of some grand EU dictator. The EU has, if anything, strengthened democracy in many countries by making that a condition of membership. It’s a myth that the EU is undemocratic. All MEPs are elected, the commission is elected by the parliament. It’s actually more democratic than the UK where we have an unelected second house, an unelected head of state, and a civil service more than ten times bigger than that of the supposedly bureaucratic EU.

      Ironically, the areas that receive the most in EU subsidy and benefit the most from EU trade have voted for Leave (e.g. South west, North West). And the biggest support for Remain was in Scotland, far from any London-centric metropolitan bubble. Ditto places like York and Manchester.

      Prosperity issues in the UK will not improve outside the EU, because we will still have ruling parties that centre wealth and power in a minority.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Scott says:

      I can understand that those who are less well off had less to lose by voting leave. However not all of us are rich in London… many young people are spending a huge chunk of their wages on ever-increasing rent, with no hope of being able to ever buy their own home. Voter demographics show that age, level of education, class and location were the key factors influencing the vote. 73% of 18 to 24 year-olds and 62% of 25-34s voted to remain. London is a young and multicultural city so it’s not surprising most people here wanted to remain.

      Regarding the funding received for beekeeping, to be fair the UK has far fewer professional beekeepers than many other EU countries – http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/honey/reports/statistics-apiculture-programmes_en.pdf

      In 2011-13 Italy had 7,500 professional beekeepers, Spain had 5,361, France had 2,205 and the UK had… 200. I don’t think hobby beekeepers should receive funding so it makes sense that larger countries with more professional beekeepers would require more funds.

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  14. honeymedic says:

    Thank you Emily for digging out the statistics and I certainly feel for young people trying to raise a family without hope of buying their own home. This is a result of a shortage of homes and quantitative easing to save the banks (City) leaking out to cause an asset bubble in property,
    I take your point as to the number of beekeepers in the UK and thank you again for the statistics, but when I spoke of unsustainability I meant that France appears to be getting 4 times as much per beekeeper than Italy and more than 1.5 times that of Spain or have I got it wrong.

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    • Emily Scott says:

      I don’t fancy getting into the maths of who gets what, but perhaps there are reasons behind the differences in funding. I know Amelia from the A French Garden blog has left me comments before saying that the professional beekeepers she knows in France have had large hive losses. Of course Italian beekeepers have been suffering too with the small hive beetle outbreaks.

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  15. theresagreen says:

    I voted ‘remain’ for my children and grandchildren, especially those that live and work in London. Also, as I lived freely in Spain for 10 years I feel I have no right even to consider inhibiting the free movement of others. I agree with you that any environmental issues from bees to increased public access to our remaining fragile wild places will be at the bottom of any politicians’ lists trying to sort out the tangle we’ve created. Pity we were given the opportunity to vote on such a huge issue in the first place!

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  16. Wendy says:

    An interesting and thought provoking post, Emily. I do really fear for the future of our natural environment and of course the bees under the current Government (because it sees nature primarily as something to be exploited or trashed for financial gain). It is good, though, that so many people are aware of the plight of our bees now and I hope this can be mobilised to halt any policies that will harm them.

    Like

  17. I was very surprised of the Brexit vote to leave, and was hoping the UK would stay. I also did not realize so many of the economic ramifications to follow, not to mention ecological concerns. I do hope the decision is one both the UK and EU can live with. I did like the passport-free travel between nations. I was glad to hear it may take a little time to finalize though. I am off to London on Aug. 2. Do you have any suggestions for me in light of this decision? I suppose it will not affect travelers in any way, but maybe a bit cheaper trip. Anything not to miss seeing? We will be in London for five days, then some bus travel through the UK and Scotland. I am excited to see your country. Also read your comment that London is a young city. I was wondering if I would fit in or stick out as an American tourist? I always like to blend in. No big camera for this trip, so that should help.

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    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks Donna. The decision shouldn’t affect tourists yet. As you are a gardens fan I would recommend Kew Gardens (especially as it has The Hive installation there at the moment!) – http://www.kew.org/visit-kew-gardens/explore/attractions/hive and also the Chelsea Physic Garden, which is much smaller but still a gem – http://chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk. If you are into food at all Borough Market is a fun visit from Wednesday to Saturday – the stalls are amazing to see and smell – http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/faqs. And on a sunny day a walk along the Southbank area by the Thames is lovely.

      We have so many Americans here that your accent will not stand out at all. The main way I spot tourists on the tube is that they’re clutching a guide book!

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      • Thank you. We will most definitely take your suggestions. I know there is much to see and do, but we both love gardens so the links will be helpful and I will save them to my phone and forward them to my friend. Ha, neither of us carries a guide book. The phone should look less out of place I guess, but while in Germany, I very rarely saw locals on their phones, not like in the US.

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        • Emily Scott says:

          Don’t worry, everyone here is on their phones! Not talking, but on the Internet or playing games like Candy Crush. Maybe fewer people have smart phones in Germany. All I would say about using your phone is to avoid using it by the side of the road. There have been lots of incidents of phone thefts by bikers who snatch the phone out of people’s hands and then zoom off.

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