Honey product guide launched

Ethical Consumer and Friends of the Earth today urge consumers to put the plight of the beleaguered honey bee on their shopping list by choosing ethically produced honey.

In its latest product guide to honey, Ethical Consumer recommends that shoppers only buy honey from small-scale, local honey producers in the UK and organic and Fairtrade honey from the Fairtrade co-op, Equal Exchange.

Ethical Consumer co-editor Tim Hunt said:

“The main finding from our honey product guide is that consumers can have a positive impact on honey bee welfare through the brand of honey they buy. For the first time, shoppers can now make an informed choice about which honey brand to buy.”

“Consumers who buy these more ethical honeys are supporting production methods that have a direct positive impact on honey bee welfare and the wider environment both overseas and here in the UK.”

Europe’s pollinators are now facing a well-publicised crisis with up to 35% of honey bee colonies having been lost since 1985. In the UK we have 267 bee species including honeybees and they all perform a vital role in keeping our parks blooming and putting food on our plates. Many crops would be off the menu without cross pollination by a diverse range of bee species. This decimation of pollinators is being blamed on a lethal combination of habitat loss and the widespread use of controversial insecticides.

Paul de Zylva, Nature Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said:

“Our Bee Cause campaign has shown that there is huge public concern for bees and this has prompted some long overdue action from the Government in the form of its National Pollinator Strategy. While this strategy still has some way to go in supporting farmers to cut pesticide use and improve how land is used, we have seen people across the UK do what they can to help bees by planting the right kind of plants and stopping using pesticides in their gardens. The Honey Guide gives people further power to help save bees by choosing the most ethical honeys that support bees and their environment.”

The top scoring honey brand in the survey is Equal Exchange which is both Fairtrade and organic.

The bottom scoring honey brands in the survey include ASDA, Tesco and Sainsbury.

Ethical Consumer’s product guide to honey reveals that most commercially produced honey is reliant on treating honey bees akin to domesticated farmed animals resulting in them being overworked and exploited.

Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause campaign has other actions that people can take to help bees and other pollinators. People can:

  • Create a ‘Bee & Bee’ – sign up for a free guide to creating a space to provide food, water and shelter for bees
  • Apply for a ‘Bee Saver Kit’ – donate to receive wildflower seeds to create a bee friendly habitat, a bee guide, a garden planner and more
  • Establish a ‘Bee World’  – Friends of the Earth will provide all the info you need to create a haven for bees in your community
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Bee action plan welcomed – but tougher action on pesticides still needed

The National Pollinator Strategy published today is a major step towards protecting the nation’s bees, said Friends of the Earth, which led the campaign for a bee action plan. But the environment charity warned that ministers must still do more to boost greener farming practices and reduce the threat from pesticides.

Commenting on the National Pollinator Strategy, Friends of the Earth’s senior nature campaigner Paul de Zylva said:

“This bee strategy shows that people power works – it has been introduced because thousands of people, organisations and politicians across the UK have stung the government into action.

“The National Pollinator Strategy will make a significant contribution to safeguarding Britain’s bees – but ministers must still get tougher on pesticides and do more to boost bee-friendly farming as 70% of our land is farmed.

“Bees and other pollinators are vital for safeguarding our food and countryside. Everyone has a role to play – we cannot afford to jeopardise their future.”

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Allotments best for bees, says the Great British Bee Count

Allotments are providing the best habitat for bees while parks and roadsides need improving, warns a leading bee expert following the results of the first-ever Great British Bee Count published today by Friends of the Earth, Buglife and B&Q. 

More than 23,000 people around the UK used a free smartphone app to log their sightings of 832,000 bees during the 12-week citizen science project this summer. The organisers developed the survey to help build a broader picture of the health of bees, including especially vulnerable wild species for which there is currently no good data.

Scientists warn that the overall picture for British bees is one of serious decline, with 71 of our 267 species under threat and more than 20 already extinct, and stress the importance of maintaining a wide diversity of bees in order to cross-pollinate many fruits and vegetables.

Some highlights from The Great British Bee Count 2014 are:

  • Allotments won the prize for type of habitat where the most numbers of bees were seen per count: an average of 12 compared to countryside (10), garden (8), school grounds (7), park (7) and roadside (4).
  • Yellow and black bumblebees were the most spotted type of bee in all regions: 304,857 sightings. This category includes some of our most common bee species: buff-tailed bumblebee, garden bumblebee and white-tailed bumblebee.
  • Honey bees were the second most-seen in all regions (193,837 sightings) with 42% seen in rural areas, 30% in suburbs and 28% in urban areas. This could change next year due to a rise in urban beekeeping.
  • The tree bumblebee was the third most-spotted, with 69,369 sightings and of these ginger-tufted bees found nesting in bird boxes. This highly adaptable species arrived in southern England from mainland Europe in 2001 – this year’s count shows it has now spread throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The full survey results and tips on how people can help bees can be found at www.greatbritishbeecount.co.uk

Bumblebee expert Professor Dave Goulson, author of A Sting In the Tale, said:

“It’s wonderful that so many people are taking time to look more closely at the hardworking bees in their area and learn about these fascinating species.

“This year’s Great British Bee Count highlights the importance of allotments in providing essential habitat for the bees that pollinate all those tasty home-grown fruit and veg – and shows that parks and road verges could be a lot better for bees, with less mowing and more wildflowers.”

Friends of the Earth, the Women’s Institute, farmers and scientists are calling for the Government’s national strategy to protect bees and pollinators – due this autumn – to be significantly improved to tackle the root causes of bee decline, including supporting farmers to cut pesticide use and creating more bee-friendly habitat in public spaces and new developments.

Friends of the Earth’s Senior Nature Campaigner Paul De Zylva said:

 “It’s great that so many people are making allotments and gardens bee-friendly by growing the right kind of plants, but we need to ensure rural areas and towns are also habitat-rich so bees can move freely.

“The Government must improve its National Pollinator Strategy to tackle all the threats bees face, especially from pesticides and a lack of habitat on farms and new developments.”

Experts believe the mild winter created good weather conditions for bees to thrive this summer, compared to the two preceding cold winters that caused honeybees to suffer. However, extreme floods earlier this year will have affected ground-nesting bumblebees along with other wildlife.

Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at B&Q, Matthew Sexton, said:

“We’ve been concerned for many years about declining bee health, which is why we work closely with Friends of the Earth.

“Bees are vital to keep our gardens and countryside healthy and there’s lots gardeners can do, with our help, to support hungry bees, such as growing bee-friendly plants and starting a bee café.”

As winter approaches, bees may still be seen by flowering plants like ivy, enjoying a ‘last supper’ before becoming more dormant. People can do their bit for bees this autumn by protecting ivy until it’s finished flowering and planting perennials, bulbs and shrubs to ensure bees have something to eat in spring when they emerge from hibernation.

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UK needs more affordable homes – but they must be green

The supply of affordable homes must be increased to help tackle the housing crisis, but they must be built to high environmental standards and situated in the ‘right place’, Friends of the Earth said today, ahead of publication of a Labour-commissioned review of the issue, expected tomorrow (Thursday 16 October 2014).

The environment charity said in particular that rising energy prices and the urgent need to tackle climate change meant it was essential to ensure all new homes are super-energy efficient.

Last year Labour set up a commission, chaired by Sir Michael Lyons, to “draw up a road map that will set out the changes to housing and planning policies and practice that are required to deliver the new homes and communities we need”.

Friends of the Earth, which published a new policy briefing today, is calling for a major overhaul of housing policy to ensure all our homes are warm and affordable and have high environmental standards. This overhaul must include both new and existing homes, infrastructure such as transport, shops and services, and access to nature.

Friends of the Earth’s Head of Policy Mike Childs said:

“Urgent action is needed to tackle the shortage of affordable homes, but any new construction must not lead to significant increases in carbon pollution or damage nature.

“A radical overhaul of housing policy is also urgently needed. This must include new and existing homes, water and energy efficiency, access to nature and the prioritisation of public transport.

“Britain’s housing stock must be future-proofed to deal with a world facing rising energy prices and the threat of catastrophic climate change.”

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Primary Schools Compete To Win Solar Panels

Primary schools across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are being offered a unique opportunity to win solar panels, crowd-funded by Friends of the Earth supporters.  The competition invites pupils to submit creative entries, such as artwork or film, demonstrating why they’d love their school to be powered by solar energy.

Run On Sun Logo

Run On Sun

The winning school, chosen by public vote at the start of the new year, will receive a solar installation free of charge. The panels will make thousands of pounds every year for the school – meaning more to spend on playgrounds, libraries and trips.

Research by Friends of the Earth shows that schools could save up to £8,000 per year with solar panels, but many schools struggle to afford the upfront costs of solar panels. It’s for this reason that Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to allow schools to borrow funds, with schools potentially being the first step in making better use of clean energy all over the UK.

It’s the first time that Friends of the Earth has crowd-funded a renewable energy project. Its new Run on Sun campaign, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, aims to make it easier for schools to benefit through solar power.

Friends of the Earth’s Renewable Energy Campaigner Anna Watson said:

 “Solar panels are a win-win for schools and the environment – not to mention the kids. As well as slashing electricity bills, they’re a great example of clean energy in action and tackling climate change.

“Whether it’s your children’s school, local school, or your old school from years gone by – nominate them today for the chance to win free solar panels!”

The competition closes on 15th December 2014 and entries should be submitted online only as photographs, film, or slideshows. They will then be showcased in a gallery on Friends of the Earth’s website! Anyone can nominate a school to take part in the competition, with nominations closing on 24th October 2014.

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Polls Highlight Public Unease Over Animal Experiments

The RSPCA believes that the results of two new polls commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should stimulate more determined efforts to end animal use and suffering in experiments.

The surveys were carried out in March by Ipsos Mori and show a continuing overall decline in public support for animal experiments – now at the lowest level since 2002. Close to a third (32%) of people in the UK state that they do not support the use of animals in any experimentation because of the importance they place on animal welfare.

Although around 68% say they can agree with some use of animals in experiments, this comes with three major caveats: it should be for the purpose of medical research; there should be ‘no alternative’; and there should be no unnecessary suffering.

RSPCA chief scientific officer Dr Maggy Jennings OBE said:

“These results reveal the public’s deep-seated and persistent concerns for animals who suffer in the name of science – concerns which are shared by the RSPCA.”

Given this, it is unsurprising that the public wants more to be done to reduce animal use. More than three quarters (78%) of people say there should be more research into humane alternatives to animal experiments, and almost half (47%) believe that ‘scientists could do more to reduce the suffering of animals that are still used.’  The RSPCA, strongly agrees with both of these opinions, as do all of us at Eco Lovers.

Furthermore, 61% think there might be unnecessary duplication of research; only 24% think that in practice ‘scientific research is carried out on animals only where there is no alternative’; and just 16% believe that organisations using animals in the UK for scientific research ‘stick to good animal welfare standards’.

Maggy continued:

“Lobbyists for the research community argue that everything possible is done to keep animal use and suffering to a minimum, yet in the past decade there has been a massive increase in the numbers of animals used.  There has also been increasing acknowledgment that many experiments are poorly designed and of questionable value, which means that animals have – without doubt – suffered unnecessarily.

It is particularly noteworthy that 34% of people asked in the survey state that they ‘do not trust the regulatory system around the use of animals in scientific research’, with only 35% believing that ‘the rules in the UK on scientific research involving animals are well enforced.’

Maggy said:

“The public is absolutely right to be concerned.  They expect strong controls on animal experiments that are robustly enforced.  However, in recent years there have been worrying reductions in the number of Home Office Inspectors, who oversee compliance with the law.  Their resources are currently stretched to the limit.”

“The Coalition Government made a commitment to reduce the use of animals in research, producing a Delivery Plan earlier this year.  The results of this survey should leave them in no doubt that large sectors of the public – and the RSPCA – will be waiting to hold them to account if the plan fails.”

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1000’s Of Huge Spaces Crying Out For Solar Power

Friends of the Earth have reacted to new figures released by the Government yesterday, showing that just 49 large solar rooftop systems have been accredited under the UK’s feed-in tariff in the last six months.

Friends of the Earth’s Renewable Energy Campaigner Alasdair Cameron said:

 “Whilst household solar may be doing well, the larger rooftop market is in big trouble – the Government says it wants to move from ground to rooftop solar, yet it has so far done almost nothing to make this happen.

“All over the country there are tens of thousands of huge spaces crying out for solar – from factories and warehouses to schools and hospitals.

“Ministers must urgently ensure that businesses and communities everywhere have the opportunity to install solar power and sell their electricity, starting with allowing schools to borrow to invest in solar.”

Did you know, if every school in the UK went solar they could save more than £200 million a year, and generate enough electricity to power more than 300,000 homes?

Or that installing solar on just one in six of our best roof spaces could generate around 15 per cent of the electricity we use, boosting energy security, generating income for communities and reducing pollution?

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Bumblebees Most Spotted In Great British Bee Count

Yellow and black bumblebees have been the most common species seen by people logging bee sightings for The Great British Bee Count this summer, using a smartphone app developed by Friends of the Earth, Buglife and B&Q, interim results released today reveal.

More than 23,000 people around the UK have spotted 800,000 bees since the June launch of the citizen science project, which aims to help scientists build a nationwide picture of bee health, as part of the organisations’ work to reverse the severe decline in numbers of bees over the past decades.

More than 20 UK bee species are already extinct and about a quarter of the remaining 267 species are at risk.

With just ten days until The Great British Bee Count ends on 31 August, organisers are today urging people to download the free app at www.greatbritishbeecount.co.uk to learn more about these iconic species and how to help them.

The survey so far shows some interesting trends. Friends of the Earth hopes to make The Great British Bee Count an annual event so that over time comparable data can help to answer key questions about bee health.

Here are some interesting facts and figures from the survey so far:

  • Yellow and black bumblebees have been the most spotted type of bee in all regions: 239,861 sightings. This category includes the buff-tailed bumblebee, the garden bumblebee and the white-tailed bumblebee – some of our most common bee species.
  • Honey bees are the second most spotted in all regions: 131,853 sightings. Almost a third of people who took part reported seeing honey bees – and 86% of these sightings were in gardens. This could be due to a rise in urban beekeeping that means foraging honeybees are seeking nectar and pollen in gardens.
  • The tree bumblebee has been creating a buzz, with 68,963 sightings and many people sending photos of these ginger tufted bees nesting in bird boxes. Originally from mainland Europe, this species was first seen in southern England in 2001. We’d like to know how far north this bee has travelled, so please log a sighting when you see one.
  • By far the most bees were spotted in gardens (447,291) followed by the countryside (35,458), other (32,061), parks (22,613), roadside (18,129), school grounds (12,183) and allotments (9804). The accessibility of gardens makes them ideal for bee spotting, but it’s encouraging to see how people have recorded bee sightings when out and about.
  • People in the North West and Scotland seem to be the keenest bee spotters, with 74,120 and 68,646 sightings. With 10 days left until the Great British Bee Count ends, people in other regions – South (65,860), Yorkshire (39,619), East (57,030), West Midlands (52,217), London (44,059), South West (30,144), North East and Cumbria (29,549), East Midlands (25,509), Wales (24,178), West (20,057), South East (19,773), East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire (18,539), Northern Ireland (7,420), Channel Islands (819) – still have time to get on the leader board.

An illustrated A3 bee identification poster to help people tell the difference between species is available by texting BEE to 78555 to donate £2 to Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause Campaign.

Experts believe the mild winter has created good weather conditions for bees to thrive this summer, compared to the two preceding cold winters that caused honeybees to suffer. However, the extreme floods in many areas earlier this year will have affected ground-nesting bumblebees along with other wildlife.

Friends of the Earth’s Senior Nature Campaigner Paul De Zylva said:

“It’s wonderful to see so many people becoming bee-spotters this summer and learning more about these fascinating species using the Great British Bee Count app.

“If you’re on holiday, looking for something to do with the kids, or out and about this weekend, download the free app and see what bees you can spot – there are only 10 days left of this year’s survey!

“It’s encouraging that more and more people seem to be making their gardens bee-friendly by growing the right kind of plants, but because bees need habitat everywhere in order to move around, we need to ensure that rural areas and towns are also habitat-rich.

“People around the country are doing their bit for bees – we hope the Government will do its bit too by improving its upcoming National Pollinator Strategy so that it fully tackles all the threats bees face, especially from pesticide use and a lack of habitat on farms and new developments.”

Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at B&Q, Matthew Sexton, said:

“We’ve been concerned for many years about declining bee health, which is why we work closely with Friends of the Earth.

“We know how vital bees are to keeping our gardens and countryside healthy and there’s lots gardeners can do, with our help, to support hungry bees, such as growing bee-friendly plants and starting a bee café.”

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Are Current Farming Methods Risking Boom Or Bust With Food Supplies?

The push for more intensive agriculture to feed a growing global population risks ecological “boom and bust” according to four of the country’s leading ecologists, writing for Friends of the Earth’s “Big Ideas Change the World” project.

In a damning critique, they argue that the current dominant thinking on food security treats nature like a machine, demanding ever-increasing productivity, which damages the long term health of ecosystems. As a result, the vital services ecosystems provide, including food production, pollination, climate regulation and flood protection, are vulnerable to collapse.

Lead author of the “No dominion over nature paper”, Professor Mark Huxham from Edinburgh Napier University, said there was a need to rethink current approaches, including the assumptions made about future populations:

“The food we eat doesn’t appear out of thin air, it comes from ecosystems; ecosystems that we are currently abusing through intensive monoculture farming. There are many complex reasons why so many people around the world go to bed hungry, but unless we manage our ecosystems sustainably we risk condemning billions to a boom and bust in food production. And unless we address food waste, obesity and population growth the problem will be exacerbated.”

The authors find that efforts to manage ecosystems sustainably while increasing agricultural productivity are currently being hampered by the privatisation of knowledge and a shortage of public funding for international research.  They argue that we need an open source approach to science and technology to develop a shared understanding of how we can manage ecosystems – integrating food production with other services such as watershed and climate regulation in a “mosaic farming” approach.

Professor Huxham added:

“Open access to science and technology can play an important role in improving the way in which we manage food production, but the idea that technology alone is the answer is dangerously misleading. We need a fundamental change of approach that recognises the value of the different services ecosystems provide. Our land and oceans need to be managed to allow food production to happen alongside other services in a more integrated mosaic approach.”

Despite the bleak outlook, the authors point to examples of a more sustainable approach to agriculture, such as the Chinese Shengtai Nongye programme which takes a broad approach to land management using agroecological engineering.

Mike Childs, Coordinator of Friends of the Earth’s Big Ideas Change the World project, said:

“Big Ideas is all about bringing fresh thinking to the challenges the world faces – and this paper provides a much-needed counter-blast to our current approaches to farming and food. The prevailing assumption that we can treat the planet as a machine that will continue producing more and more food is putting future populations at risk. We need to develop a more sustainable resilient approach to managing ecosystems, and take responsibility for the natural systems we rely on.”

Big Ideas Change the World is a three-year research project run by Friends of the Earth which seeks to spark thought and debate to find real-world solutions to the key challenges faced in the 21st century.

“No Dominion over nature” was co-authored by Professors Sue Hartley (Director of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute, University of York), Jules Pretty OBE (Professor of Environment and Society and deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Essex) and Paul Tett (a biological oceanographer at the Scottish Association for Marine Science and Professor Emeritus at Edinburgh Napier University).

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Chris Packham invites entries for RSPCA’s Young Photographer Award

With the school summer holidays stretching out ahead of us the RSPCA’s Young Photographer Awards is the perfect boredom buster for children.

They could win an amazing prize for taking a photo of their favourite animal – whether that’s a shot of a snail in the garden, a portrait of the family pooch or a snap of a sheep in a field. Plus if they are a finalist, they will be invited to the awards ceremony at the Tower of London in December that Chris Packham is hosting.

Mr Packham said:

“I’ve been judging the competition for several years now and it’s always really exciting to sift through the entries and whittle them down to the winning shots.

There are some beautiful photographs which literally take your breath away, some shots which make you see animals in a completely different way and some pictures which just make you laugh.

Chris Packham judging photographs

Chris Packham judging entries for the RSPCA Young Photographers Award

Don’t worry – you don’t need an expensive camera to take part. If you are 18 and under just get snapping and visit www.rspca.org.uk/ypa for more information about the categories and how to enter.

Entries for this year’s competition are already rolling in thick and fast but there is still plenty of time to submit your photos before the closing date on August 25.

Good luck!

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