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Posted: 26 June 2018 by Anne Ashford (aka Pike)

Addressing the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee

It was a great surprise, and honour, to be invited by campaigning charity Sense about Science to take part in their first Evidence Week (w/c June 25).

I am one of an estimated 50,000 beekeepers active in this country today so it was more than a little surprising to be invited to talk about how evidence is used in the practice of this ancient craft in front of the Science & Technology Committee.
My beekeeping claim to fame is that I'm Chairman of Somerset Beekeepers' Association and have won an occasional prize at local honey shows, but I didn't let that stand in my way!
While campaigning charity Sense about Science, which seeks to promote evidence-based policy making, hooked me in with the opportunity to take part in the first Evidence Week, I sealed the deal with a description of our links with scientists at Exeter University.
With just 60 seconds to play with I concentrated on the greatest current threat to the UK’s honeybee population – the non-native, invasive and highly predatory Asian hornet.
“In Britain beekeepers are managing around 200,000 colonies or one billion honeybees! One in three mouthfuls of the food we eat is pollinated by bees.
This summer we are on high alert for Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) which pose a significant threat to our honeybee population.
They’re a non-native species which is colonising parts of Europe and is ruthlessly killing honeybees and other insects.
Although instances of Asian hornets in the UK have only been recorded on a few occasions in the last two years, we fear numbers will inevitably increase.
As a result we have developed links with Exeter University, who are conducting research in Europe where the Asian hornet has become widespread.
Based on their findings, we have chosen to take a ‘recognition and reporting’ approach. Sightings reported to the Non-Native Species Secretariat trigger the deployment of bee inspectors who track the hornets back to their nests and destroy them.
Evidence matters to us because it has allowed us to be prepared and identify the best strategies to protect our bees. And we would be very reassured to know that this evidence interests parliament.”
Speaking in response Mary Greagh, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, pledged her support in the fight against the establishment of the Asian hornet.
“Part of what I want the committee to be looking at is how we watch out for Asian hornets, that invasive species which is coming into our country and potentially wiping out populations of bees.”
She admired the passion people have for bees and described them as ‘these magical creatures that wonder around our gardens doing this incredibly important but mostly invisible work’.
Talking informally afterwards to Mary and Chi Onwurah, Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation was highly constructive – beekeepers, honeybees and Asian hornets are on their radar now! And to hear how they actively seek to base policy on evidence in their often highly complex work is reassuring.